The monsoon season is in full effect across northern Arizona but has yet to make any significant impact in the number of regularly scheduled air tours including helicopter rides to the Grand Canyon.
"There's no denying that reschedules have increased, but that's not unusual this time of year," said Keith Kravitz, owner of Grand Canyon Helicopters.
He added, "Monsoon thunderstorms are brief and happen primarily in the afternoon. In most cases, travelers simply wait out the downpour then commence the flight. If, for whatever reason, the weather remains inclement, a full refund is issued or a new day is rescheduled."
The monsoon officially starts June 15 and ends on September 30, with most storm activity peaking between July and August. Typically, the term monsoon refers to a single thunderstorm, however, in the case of the southwestern U.S., it represents a large-scale weather pattern.
Typically, Arizona winds come from the west. During monsoon, wind direction comes from the southeast, bringing moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez. Bursts, or heavy rainfall, occur when desert heat combines with this moisture.
The word "monsoon" derives from Arabic, which means "season" or "wind shift." In addition to Arizona and the southwest, there's a monsoon season over parts of Africa, Australia and Europe.
"South Rim flights are more impacted by the monsoon," noted Kravitz. "Indeed, the West Rim has its moments, but the conditions are not as consistent as those in northern Arizona."
Helicopter tours depart from Las Vegas, NV, and Tusayan, AZ (a/k/a the South Rim). Las Vegas flights go to the West Rim, which is 120 miles to the east. Tusayan flights only fly over the South Rim. There are no air tours that connect the two rims.
"Las Vegas travelers who want to go to the South Rim are advised to book an airplane tour that comes with a rim-to-rim helicopter ride through the Dragoon Corridor," Kravitz said.
There are two kinds of Las Vegas helicopter tours: Aerial and landing. Air-only tours go over Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and the West Rim. Landing packages do the same, but either land at the top or the bottom.
"The only place helicopters are allowed to land at the bottom is at the West Rim," Kravitz pointed out. "And Las Vegas flights are the only place from which West Rim flights originate."
South Rim helicopter tours are air-only. The National Park Service (NPS) bans aircraft (helicopter and airplane) from flying below the rim or landing at the bottom.
"Because of NPS restrictions, there are only two helicopter tour options," Kravitz noted. "There's the 30-minute flight, which goes from the South Rim to the North Rim and back and includes the Dragoon Corridor
"The 50-minute flight covers the same ground as the 30-minute tour, except it goes all the way to the Park's eastern boundary line. Once this trip concludes, a traveler will have seen nearly 75 percent of the National Park."
Currently, it's peak season for tourism at the Grand Canyon, thus resulting in many helicopter tours selling out.
"It's definitely a good idea to book a helicopter at least a week in advance," said Kravitz. "Not only does this secure seats, but it also lets travelers pick from the best flight times and most popular tours."