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The monsoon 2010 in review

I like a world in which the passing of the season ... is a matter of some importance; and I have often wondered why newspapers did not contain wires from Italy reporting flights of storks ...

—American poet Wallace Stevens, in a letter

Everyone's monsoon is different. This year's was pretty good regionally, but here in midtown—Craycroft Road and Fifth Street—we had a couple of light rains early on, and then sat through August watching the actual precipitation go around us. (My husband deeply resents Green Valley sight-unseen, on the basis that the town seems to keep intercepting our rain.) Week after week, it was pure monsoon-interruptus frustration—thunder, lightning, wind, apocalyptic skies, pathetic swamp cooling, sweating iced-tea glasses, canine weather hysteria and no goddamned rain.

Then, on Saturday, Aug. 28, satisfaction at long last—a fantastic gully-washer that swept through starting in the late afternoon, causing lots of exciting flooding and decisively slaking the thirst of every living thing.

How can you tell someone who doesn't live here about the relief and pleasure of that cold, hard, sustained, mostly sideways rain? Of seeing the recently scorching suburban streets running like creeks as darkness fell?

During what turned out to be a short break in the storm, I tried to drive close enough to our neighborhood wash to see how high it was running, but a block away, I couldn't tell where the wash started and the street began, so I turned around and went back home, where I had to sit in the car in the driveway for 10 minutes since a new storm cell had rolled up, and was hurling down lightning and icy rain from very, very high up. (I recently learned that some people make it a practice to go down to Pantano Wash as soon as it starts to thunder over the Catalinas, hoping to see a wall of water come barreling down the wash. Hey, I'd do that.)

And how to describe the pure animal delight of waking up to a natural world that's been saved again, and to the cheerful morning-after dishevelment of the city? Wading down the fresh, scoured wash the next morning with my dog, I saw that it had run four feet deep and higher. We were both happy.

Almost a week later, it rained hard again on the eastside on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Work let out early, and I was driving west at about 3:30 on Tanque Verde Road when it started raining and hailing so hard that the wipers couldn't really cope, so I pulled off into Indian Ridge Estates to wait for it to ease off. (The real danger of driving in city storms, of course, comes from the road-lakes—people swerving to avoid them, or plowing through too fast and throwing off big fans of water that completely blind you for seconds at a time. A friend of mine who hasn't lived here for long—and who grew up in the Midwest, where local governments routinely cope with natural phenomena somewhat more challenging than rainstorms—was stunned by her first experience of driving across the city post-storm on Fifth/Sixth/St. Mary's. Her question, of course, was the old one: Why can't Tucson deal with storm runoff? The answer, too, is timeless: Because it never rains here.)

Sitting there in my little car in the downpour, I had KUAZ FM 89.1 on the radio, and so I had the pleasure of hearing a choice example of Tucson meteorological nonsense. First, the announcer read a severe-thunderstorm and flash-flood warning. Then a little news: Then we were told that the weather over the coming weekend would be very dry, due to a high-pressure system that had moved over the entire region, reducing the chance of rain to near zero.

The impression given was that not only are weathermen unable to predict what the weather will be; they have no idea what the weather is.

To be fair, that cloudburst never got as far west as campus, and, anyway, the station is buried in the bunker-like basement of the Modern Languages Building. Still, sitting there with the rain coming down like a cow pissing on a flat rock, there was nothing to do but rejoice in the glorious absurdity created by the collision of monsoon with canned news—and to rejoice in the rain.

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