A chance for rainy redemption: Fantasy monsoon game back for a second year

A storm cloud over a city

A monsoon storm breaks over Tucson, Arizona.

Zack Guido

If you lost or missed out on last year's Southwest Monsoon Fantasy Forecasts, you'll have a second shot this year.

Southwest Monsoon Fantasy Forecasts is a game created by University of Arizona faculty members that allows people to test their knowledge of the monsoon by making predictions before the start of each month of the rainy season.

Zack Guido, an assistant research professor at the Arizona Institutes for Resilient Environments and Societies, or AIRES, is the principal investigator for the project, which uses the game as part of a study to promote climate awareness and evaluate public forecasting skills. Players are asked to complete a short questionnaire about their monsoon knowledge and experience before making their predictions.

"This is such an iconic event for the Southwest," Guido said. "A lot of people just love the monsoon. A common question that I get, even amongst non-weather experts is: Is it going to be a good monsoon? We often don't have great answers, because it's such a hard phenomenon to forecast and so many things influence it. So, we just wanted to turn the question around to people and ask, what do you think?"

This is the second year that Guido and his colleagues have opened the game to the public. Others involved in the project include UArizona climatologist Michael Crimmins, AIRES members Ben McMahan, Rey Granillo and Leland Boeman, and undergraduate Dharma Hoy.

The game draws inspiration from fantasy sports. Here's how it works: Players have until 11:59 p.m. on the last days of June, July and August to submit their estimates for the next month's total precipitation as a percentage of the historical average. They are prompted to submit predictions for each of the five major cities in the U.S. Southwest monsoon region: Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff, Arizona, as well as Albuquerque, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. Players make 15 estimates total and earn points based on the riskiness and accuracy of their guesses. The goal is to accumulate the most points over the three-month period.

As an example, you might guess that Tucson will receive 75% of its average rainfall for July. The July average for Tucson is 2.21 inches, which means that about 1.66 inches would need to fall for you to win full points for the guess. Players can log in to the website via Google to make their forecasts.

Rather than winning a home weather station like last year, this year's first, second and third place winners will receive a $400, $300 and $200 Amazon gift card, respectively.   

Last year, nearly 300 people submitted at least one forecast, and most of the people who participated identified themselves as "casual weather people," which Guido found heartening as he wants to generate more interest among the general public in weather and climate.

Since last year's monsoon was so exceptional – it was the third wettest on record, and the month of July was the wettest ever recorded – very few people scored any points in July.

"Last summer was crazy," Crimmins said. "We rolled out this game in one of the wettest monsoons on record. So, we got a version of Monsoon Fantasy that is unique to those conditions. We're interested to see how this works with the idea that this monsoon is going to be something closer to average."

In May, the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center predicted a slightly more active-than-average start to the monsoon for the southern half of Arizona.

"There's some indication in the models that the monsoon might start early and be more active in the early part of the season," Crimmins said. "It might be like what happened last year where it started out strong, then kind of petered out. After Aug. 15, there was a tiny bit of tropical activity, then the rest of September was pretty quiet. That could be the case this year. The models do suggest below average rainfall for the later part of the season."

With hurricanes, heat waves, fires and other destructive extreme weather events taking place across the U.S., the team wants to celebrate the positive aspects of the monsoon rains, which offer a welcome respite for many desert dwellers.

"The game is a way to channel our excitement," Crimmins said. "We can't control the monsoon, so this is closest we can come to form a community around our anticipation around what might happen. If it's wet, we can celebrate, and if it's dry, we can commiserate."

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