Even though rain doesn’t typically begin in the southern Arizona area until early July, monsoon season has “officially” begun according to the National Weather Services, and safety precaution needs to be a priority.
“The Monsoon,” which has been designated as June 15 to Sept. 30, causes an average of 10 deaths and 60 injuries each year across Arizona and New Mexico according to the National Weather Service. As the heat intensifies, moisture moves in, and a mix of potentially damaging weather begins to brew, such as frequent lightening, heavy rainfall, flash flooding and blinding dust storms.
In an effort to reduce the deaths and injuries, Gov. Jan Brewer proclaimed June 9 – 14 as Monsoon Awareness Week, reminding everyone of safety tips and awareness for those caught outside during a monsoon.
With or without rain, if you hear thunder, move inside a strong building or hard-topped vehicle immediately. The old saying is true; if the sound of thunder follows the flash of lighting in 30 seconds or less, the lightning is within six miles, and the rage of a monsoon moves fast. Avoid contact with metal objects such as wiring and piping that may act as a conductor for electricity. Stay away from tall objects like trees, telephone poles or power lines. Do not use electronic appliances during the storm and if possible, unplug them if a thunderstorm is expected.
“If caught in a lightning storm where shelter is unavailable, crouch down and stay low to maintain a grounding point with the ground. Stay away from open fields, high land, trees, poles, other tall objects and standing bodies of water,” said Dan Orta, Installation Safety Office director.
Due to Arizona’s usually dry climate, monsoons often produce more rain than the grounds can absorb. The rain has to go somewhere, so runoffs occur and washes fill quickly. Flash floods occur when the water levels and flow strength become life threatening or dangerous to physical property. If driving, avoid pools of water, even if the water looks low. Do not attempt to cross flowing streams; moving water that is merely two to three feet deep can carry away a vehicle. According to the Arizona Preppers Network, most flash flood fatalities occur when motorists attempt to drive through flood waters. Remember, “Turn Around – Don’t Drown!”
Those who live in a flood-prone area should prepare an evacuation plan that is known and practiced by the entire family. Do not allow children to play in wash areas when rain is anticipated or in the area. Anyone ever caught in a flash flood should move to higher ground as soon as possible.
One of the main concerns of monsoons is the dust storms, or haboobs, that develop quite suddenly. They are unexpected, and brief, but they can be powerful. The southern Arizona areas rarely experience dust storms, but Phoenix does. Those who plan trips to Phoenix during monsoon season should be prepared.
The Arizona Department of Transportation provides current information to drivers using numerous strategies – message boards along the highway, social media, television and radio advertising, and Internet. If driving through a dust storm, begin slowing down while becoming aware of other travelers who may be around you. Pull off the roadway as soon as possible, completely exiting the main road if possible. Due to limited visibility, drivers may not see vehicles stopped in the emergency lane.
Turn off all vehicle lights, including emergency flashers. Set the emergency brake and keep the seatbelt on. Do not exit the vehicle until the dust storm has passed.
During the summer thunderstorm season, Arizona experiences more intense weather that many other states. To be prepared for a weather emergency during monsoon season, follow these simple steps found at www.azein.gov.
Prepare a plan – Form a plan that identifies a family meeting place and includes local emergency numbers and out-of-town contacts.
Make a kit – Suggested kit items include first aid supplies, non-perishable food, drinking water, a flashlight, batteries and a radio.
Be informed – Listen to and watch local and national weather and news coverage.
Safety education and awareness can help save lives and minimize property damage or loss. For more information regarding monsoon safety, visit www.monsoonsafety.org.