June 15 marked the beginning of monsoon season in Arizona with a combination of high winds, moisture and temperatures which result in remarkable but sometimes deadly storms.
As summer approaches, Arizona receives its winds from the south or southeast where moisture hitches a ride from the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. These winds and moisture mixed with the dry desert heat create the intense storms that occur from June through September.
A sure sign of the start of monsoon season is increased winds. With layers of dust accumulating throughout the desert during the dry season, strong enough winds create walls of dust hundreds of feet high which sweep through the valley, causing poor visibility and dangerous driving conditions.
According to Arizona Department of Transportation Safety, if caught in this situation, calmly slow the vehicle, pull to the side of the road and wait for the storm to pass. Turn off the vehicle and lights, set the parking brake and release the brake pedal.
Remember visibility is decreased for everyone. If you feel confident to continue driving, slow down and turn on the hazard lights. Drive straight and only change lanes if absolutely necessary.
Tornados are rare but can happen. Do not attempt to outrun it. If outside, seek the lowest point to lie down in. If indoors, go to the lowest level or a bathroom for safety.
Strong thunder and lightning storms can deliver an average of two and one half inches of rainfall in a single monsoon season. According to Master Sgt. Philip Mohr, 56th Operations Support Squadron chief of weather, these sudden bursts of rain can cause quick, dangerous flash flooding that can consume streets and washes. What seems like an inch or two of water can turn into a river and leave motorists stranded and in need of emergency help. Arizona has implemented the “Stupid Motorist Law,” which states the expense of the emergency response can be charged against the person who is liable for driving into an area of rising water and becoming stranded.
The best thing to do is to watch for signs posted “DO NOT CROSS WHEN FLOODED.” These signs are posted to save lives and many motorists will cross and be caught in the fierce rushing waters. Slow down and wait for the waters to subside. Hydroplaning occurs when a thin layer of water accumulates between the tires and the asphalt causing the vehicle to lose contact with the road. If the car starts to slide or drift, take your foot off the gas until traction is reacquired. Do not brake suddenly, and if you continue to slide, gently turn the steering wheel in the direction of the slide.
The other danger with torrential rain is the oil on roadways. The build-up of oil from cars traveling can make for a slippery stretch of road when the skies open up with a sudden downpour.
If traveling by foot, seek shelter immediately. With lightning you want to be somewhere secure and safe. Avoid open fields, metal objects, pools of water and anything tall such as trees and electrical poles.
Power outages are fairly common with monsoon storms so if indoors, turn off all electronics and keep battery powered flashlights, radios and candles nearby. Stay away from windows in case air born debris crashes through. Metal is an good conductor of electricity so try to stay away from sink and bathtub faucets since lightning can travel through underground plumbing fixtures.
A cell phone may seem safe during a severe thunder and lightning storm but even cell phones pose a risk of shocking a person when lightning is in close proximity.