Flood and fire: Thunderstorms to present dual dangers in the Southwest

AccuWeather meteorologists say conditions will be ripe for daily showers and thunderstorms across some of the hottest tourist destinations of the interior West, bringing risks from heavy rainfall and lightning-induced wildfires.

"The North American monsoon will perk up but stay disorganized in the coming weeks," AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said.

The monsoon is an annual event marked by a change in wind direction that brings moisture into the Southwest from both the Gulf of Mexico and the tropical Pacific Ocean. Many locations in the region rely on this yearly uptick in showers and thunderstorms during the summer months for roughly one-quarter to one-half of their annual rainfall. The pattern change does not arrive without risks, however.

"Hikers will want to head out as early as possible this week and try to get off the mountains by the late afternoon before storms erupt," AccuWeather Meteorologist Joseph Bauer said, adding that any thunderstorms can bring gusty winds and small hail.

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Zion National Park in Utah and Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in Wyoming are among the popular summer spots where thunderstorms could erupt near or overhead.

Showers and thunderstorms will become more widespread as the week progresses as an area of high pressure shifts to the east. The wind pattern around this high will then direct more moisture into the interior West.

Rainfall will be highly sporadic, meaning that some areas will be completely missed by storms over the course of the week. For other locations, however, it can mean they get hit by wet weather more than once.

Where storms do develop, rainfall can be intense, and the hard, rocky soil and rugged terrain can increase the risk of localized flash flooding. Any non-flooding downpours can help douse active wildfires.

The northern extent of the thunderstorms over the interior West will retreat southward this weekend but remain over the interior Southwest into next week.

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According to the National Interagency Fire Center, wildfires were active in California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado as of Monday morning. The Ruidoso, New Mexico, area has been hit particularly hard with deadly fires and floods.

Pastelok warned that some of the thunderstorms in the pattern may not produce heavy rainfall. In fact, they may produce little to no rainfall due to the dry air in parts of the region.

"The northern and western fridges of moisture, generally from western Arizona to Utah and Colorado, will be at risk of dry lightning strikes which can lead to a higher risk of fires," Pastelok said.

Temperatures across the West will remain several degrees above average through the week, but extreme record heat will be kept at bay. Mother Nature will provide natural cooling in the hours following any thunderstorms.

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