Monday, July 17, 2017

Flash Flooding in the Southwest

I'm Horrified by the flash flood tragedy which took at least 9 lives this weekend near Payton Arizona, at Cold Springs. 

It hits so close to home too: I just realized that this accident happened at the exact same river and area where i went camping with friends a couple of years ago....and, as if in a horrific premonition, there was a violent flash flood during our time there, which we avoided, thanks to the warning of a local friend who knew the fickle nature of the river. 

Then, the news came in this least 9 people were swept away by that same little river- a "creek" by east coast standards.

Thankfully, in our case, we had heard from the property caretaker where we were camping that there were storms coming, which she knew could change that darling babbling brook that we had padded around in so happily just hours before- It could turn Dr Jeckyl into Mr Hyde......
And so it was, merely hours after we moved our tents , that charming cool little creek transformed into a raging, angry torrent of runoff water from the storm that was still up higher in the mountains. It had been raining where we were- a cooling drizzle which we welcomed after the heat of the day- but nothing about that rain could have predicted such a violent transformation of that creek.  
As I I said, some of us in the group had been sleeping in tents near the river- and some were actually camping directly IN the creek....where charming little flat outcrops made seemingly perfect private islands. IN FACT, There was a pair of journalists: husband and wife friends of ours who were part of the camping group, and the husband- a well known op/ed columnist for our city newspaper- wrote an article that following week about the tragedy that we had avoided...the exact thing which horrifically happened yesterday. 
A terrible coincidence/premonition....
And so, with this experience and knowledge.....
Just yesterday morning I saw someone who posted a video on instagram which showed a young kid happily scampering about a wash (dry river bed) in Tucson , as a line of water began to flow into the frame: the beginning of outflow from a mountain storm....Yes, it is a charming and magical sight- but also potentially deadly! 
I hate to be the Debbie Downer, but I decided that this was an opportunity to warn people of the potential of flash flooding in the desert. So I left a carefully worded comment which warned of the dangers of flooding. And I fretted that I had possibly offended, but I knew it was important to say. 
Anyone who has lived here and paid attention can tell you that a dry wash can become filled with runoff in an alarming rate. One of the highest causes of death in the desert during the summer Monsoon season is DROWNING, yes, in the desert. I believe this was the first "weird fact" that I learned when I first moved to the desert southwest. That a WALL of WATER can rush down these dry river beds faster than a freight train, and with even greater terrifying power- sweeping away anything in it's path, without warning. 
How tragic that once again, we are reminded of this fact of life in the desert by the senseless deaths of those people- mostly young children- who were simply having a little splash in the creek, on a hot summer Sunday. 
A reminder to : Turn around, don't drown. 
Avoid low areas in the deserts during monsoon season.
And remember- a dry sky in your area does not mean that flooding is impossible- Always remember, flash flooding in the southwest usually starts uphill, in mountain runoff. 
You cannot see it coming, so...this time of year, it might be best to forego the creek and go to the pool instead.


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