Mid-June is here and with it, the official start of the National Weather Service monsoon is today, Wednesday, June 15. Weather officials say the season should end at the end of September.
Last year was an unforgettable monsoon in Fountain Hills with about 10 inches of precipitation between June 15 and the end of September. This followed a particularly dry summer in 2020 where less than an inch was recorded during the summer season.
Two multi-day monsoon systems accounted for well over half of the seasonal rainfall in 2021. From July 21-25, 2.61 inches was recorded at Fountain Park. From August 11 to 18, 5.25 inches were received, again at Fountain Park. Both of these events caused extensive flood damage to streets and washes, including a storm that swept cars off the road in washes. A vehicle ended up a quarter mile downhill from the road it was traveling on. The driver escaped injury. A number of homes have also reported damage from the swollen washes.
Forecasters predict a normal to slightly higher rainy season this summer. Anyone who has been in Arizona for any length of time knows that even slightly above average rainfall during the monsoon can also be a predictor of a dangerous situation over the next few months. Damaging summer storms can sweep the state with torrential rains, lightning, blinding dust storms and high winds. As these storms form over the mountains and rumble through the desert, people should be aware of the potential dangers that come with the summer rainy season.
Public safety officials who routinely deal with accidents, floods and water rescues during the monsoon want the public to know how to navigate safely during potential storms.
Driving in a dust storm is dangerous and can often be avoided, authorities say. Drivers and their passengers should do their part by planning ahead if there are threats of dust storms.
Changing travel plans is better than trying to drive in dangerous conditions. But those on the road when a dust storm suddenly appears should get off the highway as quickly and safely as possible. Don’t drive in a dust storm.
Tips for drivers facing a dust storm:
*Avoid driving in or through a dust storm.
*If you encounter a dust storm, immediately check traffic around your vehicle (front, back and to the sides) and start slowing down.
*Don’t wait until poor visibility makes it difficult to leave the roadway safely — do it as soon as possible. Get off the freeway completely if possible.
*Do not stop in a traffic lane or in the emergency lane; look for a safe place to completely exit the paved portion of the roadway.
*Stop the vehicle in a position that ensures it is a safe distance from the main road and away from where other vehicles may be passing.
* Turn off all vehicle lights, including emergency flashers.
* Activate the emergency brake and take your foot off the brake.
*Stay in the vehicle with seat belts fastened and wait for the storm to pass.
*Drivers of prestigious vehicles should pay particular attention to changing weather conditions and travel at reduced speeds.
*A driver’s alertness and ability to drive safely are still the primary factors in preventing collisions.
Flash flooding is also a hazard during the monsoon, according to the Maricopa County Flood Control District.
With a significant number of washouts, Fountain Hills is a community with great potential for flash flooding.
A flash flood is a fast-moving flood in low-lying areas such as washes and canyons. Flash floods occur after intense thunderstorms that drop large amounts of rain in a short time. When this happens, the soil cannot absorb the water fast enough, so it collects in the channels and runs downward.
Flash floods are often preceded by a debris flow that contains rocks, brush, logs, and whatever else it picks up along the way.
Many times a flash flood occurs when no rain has fallen in the immediate area. In the desert southwest, this situation can become very dangerous for people engaged in outdoor activities such as hiking and off-roading and for motorists in general.
Flash floods are extremely dangerous because they happen quickly and often without warning. Areas that have the potential for flash flooding should be avoided when thunderstorms are nearby.
A vehicle is not a safe haven during a flash flood. Fifty percent of flash flood-related deaths occur when drivers attempt to drive through flooded washout areas. Do not attempt to cross a causeway covered by floodwater – flooding may mask damage to the pavement below. Just two feet of water can float even a large truck or SUV.
Find another route or wait. Most flash floods dissipate in about an hour.
The City of Fountain Hills is preparing for the upcoming monsoons by taking steps to reduce hazardous debris flows that reduce flooding as well as the amount of cleanup after a storm passes.
Public Works Director Justin Weldy also said the city is well equipped to respond more effectively to emergency cleanup.
Public safety officials have a key warning for motorists on the roads during a storm. Fire Chief Dave Ott and MCSO Captain Larry Kratzer remind people to stay safe and never enter a flooded laundry. “Drive, don’t drown.”
With the potential rains that come with the monsoon, the City of Fountain Hills is ready to offer sandbags to residents who need a barrier to help protect their property.
The bagging station will be at Fire Station #1 on Palisades Blvd. at Avenue des Fontaines. There is a limit of seven bags per person with sand, shovel and bags provided. Sometimes the labor to fill the bags may be available for those who need it.