Unlocking the secrets of the North American monsoon

The U.S. Southwest relies on the increasingly erratic seasonal phenomenon to help fight wildfires and drought. Now researchers are getting better at predicting it.

Death Valley is famously the hottest and driest place in North America, recording less than two inches of rainfall a year. But earlier this month, the California desert nearly broke its single-day record with a whopping 1.46 inches. The storms that swept through on August 5 set off flash flooding that left about a thousand people stranded in Death Valley National Park. 

Meteorologists said it was a once-in-a-thousand-year storm—for now, at least—and have chalked it up to the effects of the North American monsoon, also called the Southwest monsoon.

What’s that, you say? A monsoon—in the United States? Although monsoons are most commonly associated with India, where heavy rain blankets the country each summer, this seasonal phenomenon occurs around

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