Arizona Monsoon 2016 provided readers with great opportunities for photos and videos.
You know it’s monsoon season in Arizona when the storm chasers start to gather.
Saturday, weather enthusiasts descended on downtown Phoenix for the fourth annual Monsoon Con.
The convention is a gathering of storm chasers, weather professionals and anyone else interested in weather.
Christian Cleary, the monsoon-obsessed storm chaser who created MadWX, started the convention four years ago because he wanted to connect with people who shared a passion that he said he’s had since he was a child.
“The earliest memory I have is at T-ball when I didn’t run to first base because I was looking at the clouds,” Cleary said. “It’s just always been in my blood. I can’t explain it.”
Cleary described himself as an “obsessed weather junkie” and said connecting with people at the convention every year is a “dream come true.”
The convention has typically been an opportunity to celebrate weather, but this year’s meeting was more somber due to the death of 25-year-old MadWX storm chaser Corbin Lee Jaeger, who was killed March 28 while chasing a Texas storm.
Jaeger’s Jeep was struck when another vehicle carrying two other storm chasers ran a stop sign and collided with Jaeger. All three died.
Cleary doesn’t discourage people from chasing storms because of Jaeger’s death, but stressed that everyone should be extremely cautious.
“Have fun but use your brain,” he said. “I can’t say, ‘don’t chase because you have zero experience.’ Just use your head, don’t be distracted and enjoy what the monsoon brings.”
Many people don’t think about it until the time arrives, but knowing what to do if caught out on the road during these storms is important.
The stormy shot
That’s what storm chaser Mike Olbinski has been doing since 1998, when the birth of his daughter prompted him to pick up a camera and start taking photos of weather.
His time-lapse video of the July 5, 2011 haboob that swept over the Valley went viral, garnering international attention.
“It was seen across the world in a couple of hours,” he said. “I was getting emails from teachers in the Philipines the next day, asking if they could show it in their classrooms. It was the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Olbinski said he does storm chases all over the country. He’s photographed a tornado from less than a mile away and been hit with 70 mph winds and quarter-sized hail while chasing a storm in northwest Montana.
Even though he’s been chasing storms for a long time, Olbinski said it never gets old because every storm is different.
“What I want to shoot and how I shoot and where I’m gonna shoot always differs and so I just get different perspectives every year,” he said.
Flood Control District of Maricopa County meteorologist Daniel Henz was among the convention’s speakers.
His presentation focused on educating weather professionals about all the tools at their disposal for chasing and measuring storms, including resources that can track how much rain fell at any Valley location and predict where flash flooding may occur.
Henz said he knows the public gets excited about storms too but encouraged them to exercise caution.
He warned that it only takes six inches of water to sweep someone off their feet and about two feet of water for a vehicle to get stuck, no matter how large the vehicle is.
“A lot of people drive big SUVs and think ‘it’s not a big deal, I’ve been able to make it before, I’ve never had an issue before,’ ” Henz said. “Physics tells us it’s only about two feet of water no matter how big your truck is. Don’t risk it. It’s not worth your life.”
Henz also advised parents not to let children play in the water during a flood, saying that the murkiness of the water makes it difficult to tell whether there are branches or snakes in it or if the foundation underneath the water has given out and created a sinkhole.
“Try and keep your distance,” Henz said. “Don’t let your kids play in the water because you just never know.”
Awaiting the first storm
Arizona’s monsoon season officially began June 15 and ends Sept. 30.
On average, there are about 11 days of rainfall during the season, according to Flood Control District of Maricopa County meteorologist Daniel Henz.
But even on the days it doesn’t rain, Olbinski said, he still gets excited thinking about the possibilities for cooler weather and breathtaking photographs.
“When it’s 105 degrees and you get a big freakin’ thunderstorm all of a sudden it’s 76 degrees or 80 degrees and it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s so beautiful out’ and you look forward to that,” he said.
Even though Cleary has been chasing storms for years, he said each monsoon season is different.
“Every storm is not the same so essentially every chase you’re opening a new book,” Cleary said. “Whether it’s the storm characteristics or the people you meet, there’s so much to it.”
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