Summer monsoon storms in July and August of 2018 caused an estimated $80,000 in damage for the Town of Fountain Hills and poured five inches of rain onto the community. To be clear, it was a storm in early October, after the official end of the monsoon season, that caused devastation at Golden Eagle Park.
This week, Saturday, June 15, is the National Weather Service’s official start to the summer monsoon season for Arizona. As storms building over the mountains rumble into the desert, people need to be aware of the potential dangers that come with the summer rainy season.
Public safety officials who must regularly deal with accidents, flooding and water rescues during the monsoon want the public to know how to navigate safely through potential storms.
Driving into a dust storm is dangerous, and oftentimes it can be avoided, according to officials. Drivers and their passengers must do their part by planning ahead if there are threats of a dust storm.
It’s better to alter travel plans than to attempt to drive through dangerous conditions. But those on the road when a dust storm suddenly appears should pull off the highway as quickly and safely as possible. Do not drive through a dust storm.
Tips for drivers who encounter a dust storm:
*Avoid driving into or through a dust storm.
*If you encounter a dust storm, check traffic immediately around your vehicle (front, back and to the side) and begin slowing down.
*Do not wait until poor visibility makes it difficult to safely pull off the roadway — do it as soon as possible. Completely exit the highway if possible.
*Do not stop in a travel lane or in the emergency lane; look for a safe place to pull completely off the paved portion of the roadway.
*Stop the vehicle in a position ensuring it is a safe distance from the main roadway and away from where other vehicles may travel.
*Turn off all vehicle lights, including emergency flashers.
*Set the emergency brake and take the foot off the brake.
*Stay in the vehicle with seatbelts buckled and wait for the storm to pass.
*Drivers of high-profile vehicles should be especially aware of changing weather conditions and travel at reduced speeds.
*A driver’s alertness and safe driving ability are always the top factors in preventing crashes.
Flash flooding is also a hazard during the monsoon, according to the Maricopa County Flood Control District.
With a significant number of washes, Fountain Hills is a community with a good deal of potential for flash flooding.
A flash flood is a rapidly moving flood through low-lying areas such as washes and canyons. Flash floods occur after intense thunderstorms that drop large amounts of rainfall in a short period of time. When this happens, the ground cannot absorb the water fast enough so it accumulates in channels and flows downhill.
Flash floods are often preceded by a debris flow that contains rocks, brush, logs and anything else it picks up along the way.
Many times a flash flood occurs where no rain has fallen in the immediate area. In the desert Southwest this situation can become very hazardous to people engaged in outdoor activities such as hiking and off-roading and to the motoring public in general.
Flash floods are very dangerous because they happen quickly and often without warning. Areas that have a potential for flash flooding should be avoided when thunderstorms are nearby.
A vehicle is not a safe refuge during a flash flood. Fifty percent of flash flood fatalities occur when drivers try to cross flooded washes. Do not try to cross a roadway covered by floodwaters – the flood may conceal damage to the roadway beneath. Just two feet of water can cause even a large truck or SUV to float.
Find an alternate route or wait it out. Most flash floods dissipate in an hour or so.
The town is preparing for the upcoming monsoon taking steps to reduce dangerous debris flows and reduce the amount of clean-up after a storm passes.
Public Works Director Justin Weldy said he awaiting a new permit from Maricopa County to allow his crews to work in the washes to continue construction of the sediment drops. The objective is to clean out the upstream side of low-lying street crossings such as Del Cambre and El Pueblo where Ashbrook Wash crosses. Similar work was done a year ago on McDowell Mountain Road just past the Middle School.
Weldy said clearing these areas create debris basins where the water slows, allowing debris to settle out before hitting the roadway. This reduces the danger to those who might attempt to cross the flowing wash and also cuts down on the amount of post storm clean up needed.
Weldy said this does not mean the washes are safe to cross. Motorists should not attempt to drive through flooded wash crossing at any time. They may be subject to significant fines if rescue is necessary.
Wash crossings in town are posted for motorists not to cross when flooded.
Local contractors are also working with the town to address emergency cleanup related to storms including cleaning debris from streets and removal of downed trees.
Weldy also said he has a new backhoe and is hopeful other new equipment including a tractor and power broom can be acquired before the monsoon hits.