Caring for Evaporative Coolers During Arizona Monsoon Season
Arizona is one of the best environments for evaporative cooling. It has high heat and low humidity for most of the year, at least until the end of June, when the winds shift and the clouds roll in from the south. The start of monsoon season. "Monsoon" comes from the Arab word for "season" (mausin) and in Arizona it lasts from the middle of June until the end of September, but the largest and most powerful storms usually strike between mid-July and mid-August. The monsoon season creates special challenges for homeowners with evaporative coolers. The unique weather conditions not only interfere with the way the coolers function, but can also cause severe maintenance issues. It's still possible to use evaporative coolers during Arizona's monsoon season, but they require some special care and attention to function at peak levels.
What Causes Monsoons?
Throughout most of the year, the winds in Arizona come from the west, over the Mojave and Sonora Deserts, but in summer the shift. The high temperatures heat the air along the desert surface, creating low pressure zones that draw moist air up from the Gulfs of California and Mexico. The shifting winds, increased humidity, and low pressure combine to produce rain and thunderstorms as far north as Colorado and Utah. Storms typically build during the day as temperatures rise and break in the late afternoon or early evening. Most of Arizona's 12.5 inches of rain falls during monsoon season. Storms are sporadic, but violent; large bursts of precipitation followed by long periods of little or no rain.
Besides rain, monsoon season in Arizona also bring dust storms, known as "haboobs," an Arabic word for "blown." Haboobs are caused by microbursts of air beneath collapsing thunderstorms. As thunderstorms build, they pull in air from all directions. When they finally break and release their built-up precipitation, they reverse the direction of the wind, pushing it violently down to the ground where it gets shot out at a 90 degree angle away from the storm. The wind system travels along the ground at 20-60 miles an hour, picking up dust and debris as it goes. The winds inside the storm normally reach 50-60 miles an hour and can create a wall of dust 1500 - 3000 feet high and over 60 miles wide. The dust is so thick, it can block out the sun and deposit up to a foot of sand on cities and towns.
Haboobs are more common early in monsoon season, when the soil's still dry. Most die down in under half-an-hour, but because of the massive quantities of dust trapped inside, their effects can last for days. They pose a special threat to evaporative air coolers. The dust can clog the filters, the cooling pad, and the motor, completely shutting down the unit. It can even get into the water tank, if you're not careful.
How Do You Operate Evaporative Coolers During Monsoon Season?
Typical Arizona weather is almost perfectly suited to evaporative cooling. They work best when the temperature is high and humidity is low. As humidity levels climb, evaporation rates slow and evaporative air coolers become less effective. At roughly sixty percent humidity, they're unable to lower air temperatures more than ten degrees below the ambient temperature, except in extremely warm weather.
Arizona experiences some pretty drastic shifts in humidity during monsoon season. The average high increases from 11 percent at the end of June to over 50 percent by mid-August, while the average low rises from nine percent to 20 percent during the same period. At the same time, the average temperature climbs to over 100 degrees. This combination of factors damages the effectiveness of evaporative coolers. Not only does it prevent coolers from cooling the air, but the combination of humidity and heat can also encourages mold.
None of this means that evaporative coolers can't be used during monsoon season, only that they have to be used judiciously. There are long periods when humidity drops and when it rises. Owners should keep an eye on humidity levels throughout the day and the projected humidity levels throughout the week. They should also consider purchasing a hygrometer to track humidity fluctuations and alert them when it's best to turn their cooler on.
When humidity is high, the best way for owners to stay cool is to use their coolers as ordinary fans. Most portable evaporative coolers, particularly the Luma Comfort EC45S, the Luma Comfort EC110S, and the Luma Comfort EC220W, allow you to disable the cooling function, which stops the water pump, but lets the fan continue blowing air. In fan mode, they can be used for spot cooling, reducing temperatures in one immediate area, or to create cross breezes throughout your entire home by placing them in front of an open window or door and allowing it to push or pull air in from the outside. Follow this link to learn more about evaporative coolers and home ventilation.
How Do You Care For Evaporative Coolers During Monsoon Season?
Caring for an evaporative cooler during Arizona monsoon season doesn't require any special equipment, just regular and routine maintenance. The biggest challenge is the dust from the haboobs. Because they move in so fast, and leave so much dust behind, it's difficult to protect against. If you know a storm is coming, try to move your cooler inside or cover it with a tarp to keep it from getting inundated with dust. If dust does get in, it can clog up the filters and cooling pads and prevent the unit from operating. If air flow is low following a storm, dust is the most likely reason. Fortunately, clearing it away is a pretty straightforward procedure.
|Clean Filters||Remove the dust filter by pushing down on the two tabs above the filter (note: the EC220W is not equipped with a dust filter). Gently rinse the filter with water|
|Clean Cooling Pads||Remove the filter (EC45S, CE110S) or use a screwdriver to remove the back panel (EC220W). Remove the cooling pad. Shake out and then rinse thoroughly with running water to remove dust. Dry completely before reinstalling it|
|Clean Interior||With the filter and pads removed, spray the interior with compressed air to eliminate dust build-up|
|Clean Water Tank||Drain water from unit. Remove back panel and cooling pads for better access (EC220W). Rinse tank with a mixture of warm water and light detergent. Use a soft brush or cloth to remove any excess dust from the interior behind the tank. Dry tank completely before replacing|
|Clean Exterior||Wipe down the exterior using a soft cloth and a mixture of soap and water. Avoid harsh cleaners, gasoline, paint thinner, and benzene. Allow unit to dry thoroughly before plugging it back into the power supply.|
These procedures may have to be repeated once or twice following a serious storm, as residual dust may get sucked in and clog the unit over time. Dust in the piping should not be a problem, as it will get flushed out by the water pump. If the cooler becomes completely clogged or the motor fails, contact a qualified service professional.
Mold is first noticeable as an unpleasant odor emanating from the cooler. If left unchecked, it can cause severe respiratory or allergic reactions. If you suspect your cooler is infested, drain the unit, then remove the water tanks and cooling pads. Soak the cooling pads in a mixture of water and lemon juice. The high concentration of acid in lemons makes them great at breaking down mold. Keep the pad fully immersed for at least 30 seconds before removing it and rinsing it with clean water. You can also eliminate mold by soaking the cleaning pad in a mixture of water and vinegar. Vinegar eliminates 82 percent of known mold species, but there's a danger that the smell might soak into the cooling pad if you don't rinse it thoroughly enough. Once the pad has been cleaned, set it aside and let it dry thoroughly before putting it back into the unit.
Wipe down the water tank using warm water and a soft cloth or sponge. To eliminate mold in the piping, pour a 50/50 solution of vinegar into the water tank and run it through the cooler without the cooling pads for about 30 seconds. Then rinse out the water tank and fill it with clean water. Run the clean water through the tank for another 2-3 minutes to flush out any vinegar residue. Once the pipes are clean, rinse out the tank out and fill it with clean water again. Replace the cooling pad and dust filter and run the unit is ready to run again.
If there are any lingering odors in your portable evaporative cooler, add a few drops of Purify Oil, Lavender Oil, Peppermint Oil, or Citrus Oil to the water tank before you turn the unit back on again. As the water soaks into the cooling pads, it'll infuse the cooling pads with a clean, refreshing smell.
Operating an evaporative cooler during Arizona monsoons requires some special care and attention. You need to monitor humidity, dust, and mold to keep it operating effectively and to get it running again after a storm. If you do, it should serve you well and keep you cool during the hot, summer months before the wind shifts westward once again.