In Arizona, as in other regions of the world including India and Thailand, we experience a monsoon, a season of high temperatures, high winds, and high moisture, resulting in potentially deadly weather.
The term “monsoon” comes from the Arabic “mausim,” meaning “season” or “wind shift.”
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 Service, and safety precaution should be a priority.
Up until 2008 Arizona’s monsoon varied from year to year in starting date and duration. “The Monsoon,” which the National Weather Service has designated as June 15 – Sept. 30, causes an average of 10 deaths and 60 injuries each year across Arizona and New Mexico. 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.
When lightning strikes, it’s time to stay away from open fields, high land, trees, poles, other tall objects, standing bodies of water including swimming pools, and metal objects including golf clubs and lawn chairs.
With or without rain, if you hear thunder, immediately move inside a strong building or hard-topped vehicle. It is said that if the sound of thunder follows the flash of lighting in 30 seconds or less, the lightning has struck within 6 miles, and monsoon weather can move in quickly.
Get off the phone. Even cordless phones can cause a shock in cases of nearby lightning strikes. Use cellular phones for emergencies only.
Avoid contact with metal objects such as wiring shower fixtures and piping that may conduct 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.
Keep a distance from windows, as high winds can blow debris through and send glass in different directions.
“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 flooding occurs when the water levels and flow strength become life threatening or dangerous to people or physical property.
Most roads in the area are not built to drain water quickly, resulting in dangerous driving conditions from the rain pools collecting on the streets which often lasts for a few hours after monsoon storms. If driving, avoid pools of water, even if the water looks shallow. Do not attempt to cross flowing streams; moving water that is merely one to two 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.
Heed posted warnings. In Arizona, under the so-called “Stupid Motorist Law,” municipalities and rescue agencies can charge people for the cost of being rescued if they fail to observe posted warnings.
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. It can be raining miles away, and water that fills washes upstream can quickly move downstream and flood washes in areas where it’s not raining.
Anyone caught in a flash flood should move to higher ground as quickly as possible.
One of the main concerns of monsoons is the dust storms, or haboobs, that can develop quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Even when they are brief, they can be powerful. Southern Arizona areas rarely experience dust storms, but the Phoenix area does. Those who plan trips to Phoenix during monsoon season should be prepared for a potential dust storm.
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 communication.
If driving through a dust storm, begin slowing down and be aware of other travelers 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.