Monsoon season officially began on June 15th and will run through September 30th.
Though the monsoons bring welcome rains and some relief from the heat, they also bring with them their own hazards. As far as weather goes, monsoon season is the most dangerous time of year in Arizona. If you live in the Valley then you have probably already witnessed some of the destruction and power that can be caused by the monsoons this season.
The monsoons bring with them heavy rains and flash floods as well as dust storms and dry lightning. Sometimes there is even a tornado or two reported. Last year’s monsoons brought record rainfall to the Valley and much of the state. Thanks to El Nino it looks as though this year’s monsoons will be really active as well.
Hopefully the following information will help you and your loved ones remain safe during this year’s monsoon season.
According to the National Weather Service, if you hear thunder you are close enough to a storm to be struck by lightning. Around 15 Arizona residents are injured by lightning every year, and about two people die from lightning in Arizona each year.
Monsoonsafety.org says that if fewer than 30 seconds elapse between the time you see a flash and hear the thunder, then the flash is less than 6 miles away. Research has shown that the most successive flashes are within 6 miles, so you need to have reached a safe place if lightning is less than 6 miles away. There is a chance however that lightning could strike up to 10 miles away from the parent storm.
- There is no safe place from lightning outdoors. When a storm arrives get inside a large building (think homes and stores, not tool shed) or inside a hard topped vehicle with the windows rolled up. Remember, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”
- Never touch wiring once a thunderstorm has begun. It’s too late to unplug electronics once thunder is heard. To protect yourself and your sensitive electronic appliances, like TV’s and computers, it is best to unplug them before the storm begins. If the storm has already started then stay away from the appliance and their cord as they are pathways for the lightning’s electrical charge. Do not play video games connected to a TV.
- Cordless phones and cell phones are safe to use (as long as they are not connected to a base or charger) during a storm, but you want to avoid corded phones.
- Avoid plumbing including sinks, faucets, and baths. Plumbing can conduct electricity from lightning strikes from outside.
- Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off of porches.
- Do not lay on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls.
- Stay indoors until at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.
If you cannot get indoors the National Weather Service offers these tips so that you may help to reduce your chances of injury.
- Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks.
- Never lie flat on the ground.
- Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. If you are in a forest, stay near a lower stand of trees.
- Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
- Immediately get out of and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water.
- Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.).
- If you are in a group, spread out to avoid the current traveling between group members.
- If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area. Remember, a tent offers NO protection from lighting.
*If someone is struck by lightning call 911 immediately.
Dust Storm Safety
Dust storms, or haboobs, are most common at the beginning of the monsoon season. However, they can occur at any time in the season depending on rain patterns. Any time there is a thunderstorm nearby you should prepare yourself for blowing dust and reduced visibility. Dust storms are the most dangerous when you are on the road. Visibility can be decreased to near zero in just seconds, which could result in multi-vehicle accidents.
- There is a rule to follow when you are caught driving in a dust storm, “Pull aside, Stay alive.” If you cannot avoid driving into a dust storm, pull off to the side of the road as far as you can safely do so. If you are on the highway try and make it off of it.
- Once you have pulled off of the road put your vehicle in park and remove your foot from the break (so your brake lights are not on). Turn off your headlights and taillights. Other motorists may try and follow your lights in a storm and end up striking you.
- Stay in your vehicle with your seatbelts buckled and wait for the storm to pass. Dust storms usually only last a couple of minutes, and usually never more than an hour.
Thunderstorm wind gusts in Arizona often surpass 40 mph. The strongest gusts can even exceed 100 mph. These kinds of winds can cause damage similar to that of a tornado and are associated with microbursts.
- When a thunderstorm approaches it is best to assume that there will be high winds. You should get inside immediately to avoid being hit by any flying debris.
- If there is a Severe Thunderstorm Warning in effect it is probable that winds of 60 mph or more will accompany it. Stay central in your home and avoid windows.
- Keep away from trees. The majority of deaths and injuries associated with monsoon winds are caused by falling trees, downed power lines, and flying debris.
- Do not approach or touch any downed power lines. Always assume they are live and call for help.
- Before monsoon season starts you should secure outdoor furniture and garbage cans or move them indoors. These things can be blown around in even the weaker storms.
- Driving can also be dangerous in high winds. If you find it difficult to control your vehicle follow the dust storm rule, “Pull aside, Stay alive.”
Flash Flood Safety
Flash floods are the number one thunderstorm/monsoon related killer. The monsoons produce more rain than the desert soil can absorb. When this happens, runoff occurs and the water levels in the streambeds and washes rise. In Arizona there are many low water crossings that can become dangerous and impassable.
- If your home is in a flood prone area, have an evacuation plan.
- Have materials like plywood, sandbags, lumber and plastic sheeting on hand for quick repairs and protection from floodwaters. Store the materials above flood levels.
- Learn where high ground is near you that is safe from flooding, and in the event of a flash flood get there quickly.
- If you live in a flood prone area you should look into flood insurance. You can get it through the National Flood Insurance Program.
Out of the home and driving:
- Follow the “Turn around, don’t drown” Most flash flood deaths occur in the vehicle. Running water of only one to two feet deep is enough to carry away most vehicles. As little as ten inches of water can float average-sized cars, mini-vans, SUVs and trucks. Strength of the flow is the critical force.
- Do not drive around any barricades. It is both dangerous and illegal.
- Do not let children play near storm drains or washes after a heavy rain.
- Avoid low-water crossings.
- Don’t camp in a wash or in the bottom of a canyon with steep side slopes.
- Do not camp or park a vehicle along streams and washes.
- Never drive through flooded roadways. Roadbeds may be washed out under floodwaters.
- Be extra careful at night. Flood dangers are much more difficult to see in the dark.
- Even an urban street flood can be dangerous. Driving too fast through standing water can cause a car to hydroplane. The best defense is to slow down or pull well off the road (with the lights off) for a few minutes to wait out heavy rains.
- Avoid areas already flooded, especially if the water is flowing fast.
- Never attempt to cross flowing streams.
- If flooding occurs, get to higher ground. Get out of areas subject to flooding. This includes dips, low spots, canyons, washes, etc.
- If your vehicle is suddenly caught in rising water, leave it immediately and seek higher ground.
- When in doubt, wait it out, or find a safer route.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZDPS) offers the following traffic safety tips to assist motorists during the monsoon season.
- Slow down. The posted speed limit may not be safe in bad weather. Vehicles have less traction on wet roads than they do on dry roads. Slower speeds allow for safer braking and stopping distances.
- Leave plenty of room between your vehicle and other vehicles out on the road. Stopping distances and braking will be affected by slippery and wet road surfaces.
- Watch carefully for water pooling on the roadway surface as this could cause your vehicle to slide or hydroplane.
- Do not enter an area where the roadway has been closed by barricades due to flooding. You don’t know how deep the water is or how fast it is running. Besides, it is against the law and very dangerous to drive into a flooded area!
- Drive with your headlights on. This increases your visibility to other vehicles.
- At night, slow down and pay close attention to changing road and weather conditions.
- Strong winds can be associated with a monsoon storm. Watch for blowing dust and if at all possible, avoid driving into a dust storm.
- If you cannot avoid the dust storm drive with your headlights on and slow down. Do not stop on the roadway or on the emergency shoulder area. Pull completely off the roadway surface, stop, and turn off all vehicle lights and take your foot off of the brake.
- Make sure your vehicle is in good condition. Ensure your head and tail lamps along with your turn signals are working properly. Replace worn out tires for better traction and maintain proper tire air pressure, replace worn out windshield wiper blades, keep windshield washer fluid topped off, and see that the brakes are in good condition.
- Be prepared for unforeseen delays, such as flooded roads, construction or other traffic delays. Carry extra food and water in your vehicle.
- If you suffer a mechanical breakdown or tire failure, remain calm, slow down, keep the steering wheel straight, and drive the vehicle to a safe area as far from traffic as possible.
- ALWAYS wear your safety restraints.
- If a power line comes into contact with your vehicle, remain inside the vehicle until help arrives. Do not attempt to get out of the vehicle – that is the safest place for you to be. By stepping out of the vehicle, your body can become the pathway for electricity to reach the ground, causing severe bodily harm and possibly electrocution. Use a cell phone, if available, to notify emergency services of your exact location.
- Be patient and courteous. Remember other motorists are facing the same weather conditions as you.
Disaster Supply Kit
Every family should have a family disaster kit in the event of severe weather. It should contain enough of the essential items like food, water, and clothing to sustain the whole family for at least three days. That way if electric, water, and gas services are interrupted you will be prepared.
This is a list of some of the items you should have:
- Three sealed gallons of water for each person and pet
- First aid kit
- Food that requires no refrigeration or cooking
- Portable and working battery-operated radio, flashlights, and extra batteries
- Necessary medications
Understanding Advisories, Watches, and Warnings
Warnings are not issued for lightning, mainly because most thunderstorms, no matter how weak, produce deadly cloud-to-ground lightning.
- Watches mean that widespread severe weather is possible
- A watch means that severe weather has not occurred yet, but weather conditions are becoming highly volatile. Pay close attention to the weather, and tune into TV, radio, or NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts frequently.
- Warnings (Severe Thunderstorm, Flash Flood, Dust Storm, and rarely Tornado) mean that life-threatening weather is about to occur, or has been reported. Action should be taken immediately.
- Flood Advisories mean heavy rains will cause minor flooding of washes, streams, and typical flood-prone areas. Flooding in this situation is usually not serious. If the flooding does become life threatening, then the flood advisory is upgraded to a Flash Flood Warning.
We hope that this post find you well and that everyone stays safe this monsoon season!