Sunday, July 13, 2008

Flooding, Termites and Toads...Oh My!

Just to create a little contrast to today's events, two weeks ago the Ethan fire was ignited by lightening from a dry thunderstorm. The monsoon season commonly delivers cloud-to-ground lightening strikes and high winds. But when the only moisture is a hint of virga, the Sonoran desert brush can flare up like a gasoline saturated torch.

The Ethan fire, not far from where I live, blocks late afternoon sun

Today...the monsoon season delivered a much wetter one that boasts a new record rainfall for this date: 1" in one hour. The storm wasn't even on forecaster's radar this morning, but by 4 PM the Phoenix valley was rumbling and drenched without warning. Flooded (and closed) freeways, lake-like parking lots and stranded shoppers, and saturated homes sprung up before news casters could give proper warning.

The two storm cells first converged over my neighborhood (interesting, what is it with my area?) and dumped for an extended period whilst battling over which direction to go next. A number of cars in my complex -- including Jack's, parked next to mine -- were overcome with flood waters. (Thank goodness Blanca is a RAV4 and has high clearance.) Several apartments at the base of this hill behind us were flooded with a foot of water. Rain in the desert comes down fast and moves fast once on the ground. It is also fast to recede; the pic below is nothing compared to a moment before.

Apartments flooded momentarily...
Flash floods aren't just for desert back country.

Whatever you're doing, monsoon season thunderstorms are worth stopping to observe. People get downright giddy. At the very least, storms deliver a momentary drop in temperature and the opportunity to step outside without ducking for shade. For others, the storms are entertaining and break up the monotony of predictable weather. For me, it's all that plus the bugs. Monsoon critters are just the coolest. Moments after the 40-minute downpour let up, an Anna's hummingbird ventured out to to dine on flying termites ("alates"). These reproductive forms emerge en masse following summer thunderstorms. I've seen these insects thick as snow, from ground level to more than a hundred feet up...Crazy! The little Anna's belly bulged as he (she? fledgling?) gorged on fluttering termites, then washed them down with a swig from my feeder.

A hungry hummer washes down
a mouthful of flying termites

Termites aren't the only thing emerging en masse. Spadefoot toad's are abundant, too. Every summer they emerge from their long respite underground, called to the surface by the vibration of heavy rain and thunder. Temporary ponds, like the spill pond behind my building, are their preferred location. The idea is to emerge and breed for the monsoon season, then be gone again. Their call is likened to a bleating lamb; however, my neighbors asked if it wasn't a cat in distress (a comparison I'd have to agree with). Louder than anything I've heard in the desert, Spadefoot toads begin calling in the early evening and go all...night...long. The stereo, dryer and a/c combined can't drown them out from behind closed doors. I they make "scaretoads"?

The 2008 monsoon season has already delivered more than twice the amount of rainfall to parts of Phoenix than the entire 2007 season. And it's only half over! A beheaded lizard and a 3" beetle were at my stairs the other night... I can't wait to see what the season brings next.

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