It was a dark and stormy ni—well, no, it's really been late afternoon when the clouds have moved in. Come to think of it, it hasn't gotten all that dark, even with the cloud cover—if you wanted to, you could still wear sunglasses in the shade and see just fine. Stormy? Well, maybe in a way, if you're not picky about definitions: a bit of a cooling breeze, enough humidity that you could actually feel the air (weird!), and the sight of a few thunderheads. But nothing that qualified as an actual storm. Not in the sense of actual weather.
Every afternoon for the past couple of weeks, the monsoon clouds have built up over Albuquerque. We look forward to them all through the blistering heat of June, and early every July the newspaper sports a giant, front-page headline like:
Is Monsoon Season Here?
According to those in the know, for 2011, it is. For the next couple of months, the prevailing winds will change direction and start pulling moist air up from the Gulfs of Mexico and California. As the moisture heats up over the warm earth it will rise; as it cools in the higher air it will condense to fall again as rain. (It is hardly the awe-inspiring monsoon of the Indian subcontinent, but the wind pattern works the same way.) Across the west and southwest, we rely on these two months for 40% of our annual moisture, which in Albuquerque should give us a little over three inches. Since our total for the year so far is still 0.19" (5mm) of rain, we're ready for this.
We want some dark and stormy nights.
But clouds in the southwest don't come in massive storm fronts, even during monsoon season. No giant "unicloud," as my oldest nephew calls it, stakes out the sky from one horizon to the other and sets up camp for the week, pouring out rain all the while. Instead the clouds here are separate little puffballs with vague herding instincts. If the cloud directly over you decides to drop its rain just at that moment, you will get rain. Otherwise, maybe your neighbor three houses down will. The next cloud will probably have different ideas. So will the next one.
|The herding instincts of clouds, illustrated.|
Even without rain, of course, the season is a relief. The higher humidity (sometimes soaring to 50%) has been a boon to weary firefighters around the state; the clouds have kept afternoon temperatures a few degrees cooler. We can water gardens and landscaping a little less, because the water doesn't evaporate quite as quickly. But still. We want some rain.
Some parts of the state have received it—Santa Fe, Roswell, Socorro. Even some parts of town have seen rainfall, especially closer to the foothills. Here in the valley, though, we've had a couple of wickedly flirtatious showers, and that's been it. They've been enough to give the air an almost desperate sweetness—a freshness so rare and intense that it hurts. They've lasted long enough to make the patio furniture too wet to sit on for a few minutes, but not enough to send any water tumbling out of the canales into the rain barrel below, or to dampen more than the surface of the earth. Not enough to measure.
In the last few days I've stood on the patio and watched the anvils on thunderheads fraying in the icy upper atmosphere. I've seen the Sandias disappear behind a black sheet of rain. I've gazed at mango- and raspberry-colored sunsets breaking through the (many) gaps in the clouds. It's all been dramatic and beautiful, maybe even verging on the sublime.
But what I'd really like to see...is a puddle.