monsoon

"Phoenix Arizona Lightning Thunderstorm Lightning Strikes" by Striking Photography by Bo Insogna is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Daniel Stein Kokin was excited to experience firsthand the heavy winds, flash flooding and afternoon and evening thunderstorms, which define the monsoon season, when he moved to Phoenix in the summer of 2019.

But he’s been disappointed.

“I’ve now spent the better part of two summers in Arizona and they both have featured very meager monsoons,” he said.

He wrote a prayer specifically to be read on Shabbat Chukat, June 19, which falls right at the beginning of monsoon season.

“It just so happens that this Torah portion, parshah Chukat, features lots of water-related issues concerning the Israelites who, of course, are at that point wandering in the desert,” Stein Kokin said. “So you have this nice connection of desert and water issues, that very much speak to the situation that we experience here in Arizona.”

A Jewish studies scholar, Stein Kokin began writing what he calls “liturgical texts” a few years ago. He is also married to Rabbi Nitzan Stein Kokin of Beth El Congregation.

Writing and experimenting with liturgy makes him feel “at home” in the Jewish prayer book, and helps him to grapple with his own concerns and feelings — including his concern about climate change and Arizona’s drought.

Marvin Percha, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Phoenix, said he understands Stein Kokin’s concern and disappointment over the recent lackluster monsoon seasons.

“Most of the state is in extreme drought right now,” he said. “Without those summer rains, it definitely leads to drier conditions and higher fire danger levels.” Rain also brings clouds, which help to temper the summer heat.

Stein Kokin “definitely saw a real dud” of a monsoon season last year, Percha said. Last summer was the hottest and driest on record in Arizona.

Conversely, the wettest monsoon season on record was 1984, with more than 9 inches of rain, and the last “good one,” Percha said, was in 2018 which saw rainfall near an average of 2.7 inches.

There is not a consensus in the scientific community whether monsoon season variation is responding to climate change. There is also a lot of natural variation with the southwest monsoon, since it depends on larger wind patterns.

During late spring and early summer, the wind direction in Arizona is from west to east, but during the monsoon the wind direction changes from east to southeast, bringing tropical moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and from the Tropical Eastern Pacific.

The odds are tilted toward a wetter than normal monsoon season this year, Percha said.

Stein Kokin moved to Phoenix from Los Angeles, where he grew up. He identifies as a “weather buff” and said he’s been fascinated by weather since he was a kid. When he first learned about the greenhouse effect in third grade, he was so traumatized he had a nightmare about it, he said. “My head is literally in the clouds, because I’m often looking up at the clouds.”

He based his “Prayer for the Southwest Monsoon” loosely on Tefillat ha-Geshem (prayer for rain) and other traditional texts. The opening verse is as follows:

“Today we do not thirst:

Canal and pipe flow forever full, in morning sun sparkle backyard pools.

But from no cistern can the cactus sip, for Ponderosa Pine no faucet drips,

As drought has dried soil and spring, and flora and fauna pine for drink.

And as we behold the parched landscape, can we not but meditate and think:

That our desires and demands have brought us to the brink?”

Stein Kokin will share and discuss his prayer during a virtual Valley Beit Midrash presentation June 17, and will recite it again at Beth El Congregation on June 19th. JN