Outdoor Safety Tips for Arizona’s Monsoon Season

June 12, 2024

Monsoon Awareness Week is June 9-15 and Arizona State Parks and Trails wants you to remember best practices for outdoor recreation during monsoon season. The monsoon outlook by the National Weather Service currently predicts below-normal precipitation for the majority of Arizona, but it's still important to be prepared. All it takes is one storm to turn a fun outdoor adventure into an emergency situation.

Monsoon season begins June 15 and continues through September 30. Longtime residents of Arizona who know that storms may not begin until closer to July may find this start date rather odd. It helps to understand that monsoon season doesn’t simply refer to any single rainstorm. Rather, it refers to a seasonal shift in prevailing winds from a dry westerly flow to a moist southerly flow.

The resulting thunderstorms can bring serious safety hazards that outdoor enthusiasts should be aware of and prepared for when recreating. Adverse conditions can include dust storms, lightning that can spark wildfires, and flash floods with heavy debris flow.

Arizona’s arid climate receives a scanty amount of rainfall annually and is currently in a decades-long drought. Because of these factors, the soil cannot absorb the copious amount of precipitation that can fall in a short amount of time during a monsoon storm. The danger also escalates around areas that have been recently scarred by wildfire. Flash floods develop quickly and bring danger from rapidly flowing water and debris that can carry away people, vehicles, roads, and even structures. 

Always check a weather report before heading out to recreate. If conditions are right for a monsoon storm, postpone your adventure for a later date or alter your plans to ensure you will not be in harm’s way. Catalina State Park, particularly, may have rain-related impacts on campers. Should rain catch you off-guard while hiking or camping, or if you see or hear flowing water, move to higher, solid ground above the water line immediately. Never attempt to cross a flooded road or pathway: turn around, don’t drown.


Other best practices outdoor enthusiasts should follow during the monsoon season include not parking or camping in low-lying areas, along waterways, or washes. Even if the threat of rain is not in the immediate area, a storm miles and miles away can create a flooding event downstream, carrying dangerous debris. Places like canyons and washes are especially prone to these conditions. This is a dangerous situation as those recreating may not even be aware of fast-moving oncoming waters until it is too late. 

Other potential monsoon threats include lightning and dust storms. In addition to possibly sparking a wildfire, lightning presents imminent danger and those outside should seek shelter immediately inside a building or vehicle. If shelter is not available, avoid open areas, stay at least 100 feet away from metal including your trekking poles, and crouch low to the ground, remaining on your feet.

If hiking, camping, or mountain biking while lightning or blowing dust suddenly strikes, retreat to shelter, if available. Otherwise, remain calm as you move away from peaks, cliffs, or areas of high terrain. Cover your nose and mouth with a dampened bandana, neck gator, or other material to reduce dust inhalation. If riding a designated trail in an off-highway vehicle, bring your vehicle to a stop, taking care to not park over dry grass or brush, which can ignite if in contact with a hot vehicle engine. See additional safety precautions to take while driving on roadways in a dust storm from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

You can find more information about Arizona’s monsoon season including the outlook, forecast weather, and more safety planning resources from the NWS Tucson Office at Weather.gov/twc/MonsoonSafety. Remember, in monsoon weather…safety’s clever!