Down here in southern Arizona, we tend to run a few months behind the rest of the country-and many of us prefer it that way. Dog days are the hot, muggy months and the rest of the country consider it to be June and July. June here is just hot, usually with temps above 100 and humidity of five to ten percent. It’s a dry heat (and so is an oven, say the detractors.)
Dog days was coined by the Romans (and probably the Greeks before that) since June and July marked the period when the star Sirius (the Dog Star) rose at about the same time as the sun.
Our dog days are July and August. The first week of July marks the appearance of our monsoon and about half of our annual quota of rain falls in July and August when the monsoon is active. Violent storms, some localized to a thousand acres and others filling the entire valley, are the norm. Great thunderstorms and serious rain along with winds of 50 to 75 miles per hour wreck havoc on houses, trees, and cars. Rainfalls of two to three inches per hour are not uncommen, which causes traffic problems since many streets serve as storm drains or cross normally dry washes.
Along with the rain comes the humidity. Thus, our dog days start with the monsoon when the mugginess starts.
The rains bring color to the desert. Many native cacti, succulents, and trees are timed to bloom after the first rains. Our Texas Rangers (sage) bloomed a week after the monsoon started, although we were in Seattle this year and missed it. Each plant has thousands of small blooms and its usual gray-green foliage is hidden by a sea of purple. They are blooming again now but not as vigorously. Ocotillos, which usually look like dead brown sticks, leaf out and bloom, looking like red tassels topping a green stick, within a few weeks.
The toads residing in our retention basin, living underground for eleven months, come to life as soon as the pond has water. They sound like ducks quacking to the females in the audience, “Over here ladies, I’m the biggest, baddest toad in the pond.” Insects (from ants and termites to the larger beetles and skeeters), which have been a nuisance since April, become hordes.
Our monsoon is trailing off and storms are becoming less frequent. Temps will drop to the more livable 80s and the air will dry out within a few weeks.
The end of monsoon season will start snowbird season and the number of out-of-state license plates will grow until April when the heat returns.