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Hell Season is Over

(excerpted from Maria’s WebLog)

Who says Arizona doesn’t have seasons? We have five.

While I was away in Kingman last weekend, the heat broke and monsoon season — also known as hell season — ended. The humidity dried up to nothing, glasses of iced beverages stopped “sweating,” and the nights became cool enough to open the windows and leave the air conditioning turned off. The mornings are pleasantly cool right up until late morning — and sometimes throughout the day, if you stay in the shade.

In fact, I didn’t even run the air conditioner in my office yesterday. I kept the windows open on either side of the building and placed the floor fan in a position to help that cross-ventilation. I left the windows open overnight, so this morning, I should have cool, fresh air to breathe while I work.

I’m a fresh air kind of person. If given a choice between fresh air and air conditioning, I’ll take the fresh stuff most times. The only time I won’t take the fresh air is when it’s 100°F or higher with that touch of humidity that makes you sweat in the desert.

One clue that monsoon season is over is the complete lack of clouds. Take, for example, yesterday’s time-lapse movie of the view out my office window. The only way you can tell that it’s a movie is the movement of the shadows and ocotillo branches. (Click the Play button to see the movie. You must have QuickTime installed to view it.)

The high today is forecast for 85 in Wickenburg (according to the National Weather Service), with a low of 60. During monsoon season, the low seldom gets lower than 80.

So hell season is over and the autumn season is beginning.

To me, autumn in Wickenburg lasts from the last day of monsoon season (usually in mid-September) until Thanksgiving. October is always the best autumn month. Warm but not hot in the daytime, with low humidity and gentle breezes. Sometimes a bit of rain. Perfect for gardening, hiking, and other outdoor activities. At night, it cools down, but doesn’t get cold. You can throw on a sweater or jacket and do outdoor things without feeling a chill.

We always encourage our east coast family and friends to visit in October. Of course, October is also the best month in New York, where autumn colors peak and the temperature is perfect day and night. In Wickenburg, the only fall colors we have come from the cottonwood trees, and they don’t usually get to the peak of their autumn splendor (yellow) until November.

Winter lasts from Thanksgiving until early March. The worst of it is usually between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The days are still warm — this is Arizona, after all — but the nights are downright cold. In Wickenburg, nighttime temperatures in the 20s are not unusual. During the day, it might be 75°, but as soon as the sun slips beyond the horizon, it’s like someone turned off a heater. All the warm air escapes through the atmosphere. You can actually watch the mercury drop on a thermometer — perhaps 20° in an hour. The coldest time, of course, is right before dawn. Then the sun comes up and the desert warms for the day. This is also the second most rainy season, good for at least an inch or two during the three or so months.

Spring comes sometime in March. The days aren’t too much warmer, but the nights seem to be. Desert plants start to bloom or send out new branches or other growth. It gets very dry — April is normally the driest month here. By April, the days and nights are perfect — although some people who don’t know the rhythm of the desert seasons might think temperatures in the 90s are hot. Nah. Stay in the shade, enjoy the dry air. If you do need to go out in the sun, wear a hat and sunscreen.

April is also the best month for camping in Arizona. I’m hoping to verify that next spring.

Summer starts in the beginning of June. That’s when daytime temperatures exceed 100° pretty much every day. But it’s still comfortable in the shade, primarily because the air is so dry. Yes, it is a dry heat. And if you don’t understand what that means, stand in the shade on a June afternoon, at around 2 or 3 PM (the hottest time of the day), with an iced beverage. You won’t feel hot and there won’t be a drop of condensation on the glass. And at night, it’s still cool enough to keep those windows open.

Sometime in July, hell season begins. I distinctly remember its start the second or third summer we were in Arizona. It was July 4 and we were in town, waiting for the fireworks show to begin. I realized that I was sweating. The humidity had begun, bringing the most brutal of our five seasons with it.

Don’t get me wrong — monsoon season isn’t all bad. The storms that come, usually in the afternoon, are just incredible to watch. Clouds build, lightning flashes, thunder shakes your very soul. Rain comes down in buckets — if not where you’re standing, then certainly within view somewhere nearby. Dry, sandy washes turn into streams and rivers, sweeping away anything in their path. The desert gets the moisture it needs to survive and desert plants and animals soak it up until the next rain. A day or two after the first storm, the desert turns green with freshly sprouted grass. The dust that covered plants and rocks has been washed off and everything is clear and crisp and beautiful.

But it is hotter than hell (or at least pretty close to it, I bet). You’ve probably heard the joke about why Arizonans don’t go to hell when they die. It’s because they’ve already lived there.

Monsoon season goes on for at least half of July, all of August (the worst of it), and the beginning of September. And that brings us to autumn, which we’ve just stepped into here in Wickenburg. And I plan to enjoy every moment of it.

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