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This is the archive for July 2008

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Wow, a lot more fireworks last night, of the natural kind. Tucson is in it's "monsoon" season, which, for those of you not familiar with exotic language, means rainy season. The word monsoon means "backward wind", or something like that. What happens this time of year (till about September) is that the prevailing winds shift from the south, bringing lots of moisture up from Mexico.

Add to that the typical 100-105 daily highs and you get two things: unbearably hot and humid days, and lots of convection. For the next three months, nearly every afternoon and evening will see a buildup of very small - often much less than a mile across - but very intense storms, first over the mountains, then moving across the city as the sun goes down and the temps drop. We say here that when the weather report lists a 30% chance of rain, it does not mean that there is a 30% chance that it will rain, but that there is a 100% chance it will rain, with a 30% chance it will hit your house.

Last night was looking uneventful, until after dark one storm popped up just northwest of me, moving my direction. It ended up not so much moving, as developing and expanding almost right over me, and almost stationary (I was watching the live doppler radar feed on the weather channel). These monsoon storms produce rain heavier than I've ever seen in the midwest. I've seen it rain so hard when driving once, that I could not see the ground in front of the car all of a sudden.

But they usually move fast and dissipate fast, and so this intense rain lasts 5-10 minutes, with lighter rain for a few minutes either side of the core. This time, this intensity went on for a full half-hour, with normal midwest thunderstorm type heavy rain continuing for another half hour. The NWS said that a rain gauge near my house measured 1.14 inches in the first 20 minutes, with a total of 1.69 for the night. On top of this, I went outside at one point to stick my hand out from under the patio canopy, just to feel how hard it was coming down, when I saw a flash as bright as someone snapping a camera from a few feet away, and before my eyes could even recover, I felt the loudest and sharpest thunder clap I've ever heard in my life. I actually felt it as a pressure wave.

I expect to see reports of flooding today, since the farmland - rapidly developing into housing - where all this water drains is very low-lying, and has been completely under water several times in the past. We looked at buying a house in that area one time, but it smelled musty.

Anyway, I live near a wash that only has water in it maybe ten days a year, and whenever it rains, the toads are all out there singing away, each trying to convince the lady toads that he has the swankiest mud puddle in town, and wouldn't it be nice to come up to his place for a nightcap. After these storms, the puddles left in the wash for a few days after the water drains into the river - which will also be drained dry by the end of today, I'm sure - are usually filled with tadpoles, so apparently, at least some of that croaking pays off.

So, we're in the house watching TV after all this, with the back door wide open, both so the dog can come and go, and so we can smell the rain and get the temporarily cool breeze, when Sally gives out a yell of disgust and despair. I figured it was a mouse, or a roach, or some other vermin, but no, there were toads hopping down the hall. These are Colorado River toads, the kind you can get high by licking. We've occasionally had an adult in the backyard, and they get to be about 6-8 inches long. The ones in our hallway were teenagers, maybe an inch and a half long. It was kind of funny to see, even just the idea of it, but we had to get them out of there. Aside from the risk of stepping on one and getting all the squishies between our toes, the same chemical that gets adventurous human teenagers high can be fatal to dogs. So for the next little while, we were scattering furniture, chasing frogs, dropping inverted glasses over them, sliding a piece of cardboard under the glass, and putting them back in the mud outside.

It's a strange place, this desert I live in.

Friday, July 04, 2008

I just got done watching the fireworks show. It was pretty impressive, though there was no accompanying laser show, no 1812 Overture, no choreographed grand finale.

I can't remember ever deciding to not go to the big 4th of July fireworks shows down at the city park, or, as they're done here in Tucson, on "A" Mountain. I just realized that I haven't been in several years. Maybe it was when they stopped caring about whether they actually did them on, you know, the 4th? Of July?

This year's show, though, was pretty impressive. My backyard got lit up a few times bright enough to read a book by. A couple of the booms almost, but not quite, rattled the windows. I nearly broke my neck turning around and around to keep up with them.

There must have been 8 or ten different houses just in my neighborhood launching some pretty impressive boomers, with a few distant, silent sparks indicating that my neighborhood was not alone. There were no computer-controlled mortar-launched shells that you'll see at a more civic event, but it impressive nonetheless. One house had a bunch of those multi-shot whistling things. Another had a stock of those big starburst works that would blow a hundred feet up. Yet another just had roman candles launched in intermittent bursts of wanton exuberance.

Another group, with an apparently more guerrilla approach to the whole thing, was moving down the dry wash next to my house lighting a whole bunch of different stuff, obviously smuggled across the border from New Mexico (or maybe Old Mexico) sometime in the last few weeks. At one point, they set off what must have been a brick of firecrackers that went on for 2-3 full minutes at a rate that made it impossible to distinguish each individual crack. I couldn't see them, but it was obvious that by the time the last part of their contribution had lit up the wash, they were already moving downstream toward the next spot.

I joined in the scattered applause and cheers sounding from houses blocks away every time a particularly good one went up. I was applauding for my appreciation for the show, true. But I was also offering these anonymous, unseen renegades a pat on the back. None of them had applied for a permit, none had asked permission. None had heeded the inane admonitions that have been on TV all week to leave the fireworks to the professionals.

They wanted to have fun, so they just went out and had it. It was their fun, and nobody was going to have it for them. And so it became my fun, too. It may have only been a vague, fading shadow of the spirit of '76, but if that's all the rebellion and independence left in Independence Day, I'll take it. I'll let it be enough tonight that at least some tiny part of this one day's meaning has not been lost.