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Monsoon Stories 2020: Summer's Third Act

By Lauren Gilger, Kaely Monahan
Published: Thursday, August 13, 2020 - 12:20pm

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Lightning in Phoenix
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Lightning in Phoenix on Aug. 28, 2019.

Monsoon season is here, and that means The Show's annual "Monsoon Stories" series is back.

Robrt Pela, a culture critic for the Phoenix New Times, shared his essay "Summer's Third Act," which explores the sensations of waiting and experiencing a monsoon.

Everything is dark. The sun hasn't really come out. And for the second day in a row, there's no electricity, so it's muggy and gray inside our houses. And outside on the wet streets we wander staring in awe at giant felled elms and stoved in rooftops and busted out car windows.

The colossal red pine in our next door neighbor's yard has fallen across their front lawn. Its top most branches resting gently against the bumper of their truck. The man who sold us our house in this neighborhood of 100-year-old homes, stands outside a pile of rubble that used to be his own house. We murmur hello to neighbors we pass, all of us out surveying the devastation of last night's storm.

In my memory, we all were the same stunned expression. How, our shared glances seemed to ask, could this have happened in a place with no weather?

Lately with the world in such disarray, I think more often of that morning of 10 years ago, when nothing looked right. I don't think I'd heard the word microburst before that day, nor the term supercell. I grew up in Phoenix where weather when it isn't either hot and dry, or warm and dry, is mostly mysterious. In the desert where weather is concerned, we're usually either not having any or waiting for a little bit of it to show up.

When it finally arrives, we call it the monsoon season.

It's less a season here then it is a dramatic cameo appearance by some wind and a little rain. Do we call it the monsoon season to make up for the fact that we don't really have seasons here? I'm old enough to remember when one could count on a monsoon that lasted longer than a day or two. I don't think I'm making that up. Is it the distance from my childhood that has me remembering a night or two of great electrical storms, a whole week of cloudy, rain filled days?

Here in summer's third act we're waiting for the monsoon to arrive. We know that when it does, it will turn up like a bratty little brother, throw an inclement fit and quickly depart. Our monsoon has anger management issues.

We've moved away from the historic neighborhood we saw so badly damaged by that microburst of wind and hail a decade ago. My husband and I live now in a glass clad high rise. Each morning we gaze out at the city, watching for hints of a dark, windy storm. Eventually one of us will say the word haboob and the other will giggle. But we're tense. We remember how. Last year our 12 foot glass walls shuttered and shook one evening, how the monsoon stomped on to one of our balconies, grabbed up a brand new chair and ottoman and tossed them into the sky.

We found the ottoman several days later shattered to bits, a half block away. The chair never turned up.

We've lived here more or less our whole lives more than half a century in the desert. We complain about the sameness of desert weather, joke about how it's always summer, except for a few days in December when it's spring. I wonder what we’d do if we had to routinely deal with real weather? We feel tyrannized when it makes off with our outdoor furniture. We're struck dumb by wind that can knock down trees, quantities of rain that can flood city streets. Yet we can measure a monsoon season in hours. What if it went on for months, like a proper season might?

I imagine you'd find us wandering the streets staring in wonder at the beautiful devastation that weather can bring.

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