Summertime is here and with it comes rising temperatures and dry stretches of weather. This warmth is often shortly followed by a change in the climate bringing about the monsoon season, a period of time in Arizona with rising humidity, bursts of intense storms and thankfully the beginning of cooler temperatures and very welcome rainfall. The warm air in Arizona helps create the monsoon as it causes low pressure zones that, in turn, draw moist air from the oceans.
In Arizona, winds usually come from the west, but they shift to a southeasterly wind in the summer bringing moisture from California and the Gulf of Mexico. With the wind shift, increase in moisture, and low pressure in the desert there is the perfect recipe for storms that form rapidly and that can dissipate just as rapidly. With the start of these quickly forming, sometimes violent storms can come the start of some very dangerous driving conditions. It is important to remember to be safe and use caution when travelling. Take into account some safety measures when driving during the monsoon season to keep you, your family and friends, and other drivers safe on the road.
Flooding and Rain
The monsoon season begins on June 15 and ends on September 30 with storms peaking between mid-July and mid-August. During this time, approximately half of Arizona gets half of its annual rainfall. This means not only lots of rain, but also flooding and some dangerous driving conditions.
It is important to remember to be safe and aware when driving during a monsoon to stay safe as these monsoon storms can often pack a wallop with lots of rain in a short period of time. More deaths occur each year due to flooding than from any other thunderstorm-related hazard. This is mostly because people underestimate the force of water.
Flash floods are much stronger than people often realize with the force capable of downing vegetation and moving boulders. In fact, it can take as little as ten inches of water to float an average size car, mini-van, SUV, and truck. It isn’t about the depth of the water but the strength of the flow that gives the water its power. Here are some things to remember:
• Never enter flooded areas.
• Do not attempt to cross flowing streams.
• Do not enter areas already flooded.
• Never drive through flooded roadways, roadways may be hiding washed out roadbeds.
• Do not camp or park a vehicle along streams and washes, even if they are dry and especially during threatening conditions.
• Don’t cross barricades, it is illegal and dangerous.
• If your vehicle is suddenly caught in rising water, leave it immediately and seek higher ground.
Remember, when around areas prone to flooding it is important to be vigilant. Even if you aren’t experiencing a torrential downpour, it is impossible to know what is happening upstream. Flash floods appear in a matter of seconds putting your life in grave danger.
Stay out of washes and dry riverbeds. Avoid crossing already flooded areas as circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. If there are barricades up, don’t ignore them. The state of Arizona goes through great measures to keep the public safe and puts the barriers up for a reason. Stay safe, don’t go through a closure, instead, find an alternate route.
Winds and Dust Storms
During the monsoon, a storm can whip up some dangerous strong winds. Many times a storm will lead off with the high winds that produces much of the debris that creates the dust storm before the downpour of rain can follow. While many know of dust storms, many focus more on the wow factor dangers with tornadoes and microbursts. Not to discount the force of tornadoes or microbursts but the real underrated in a monsoon is actually the dust storm. Often a dust storm can have winds in excess of 40 mph and produce blowing dust that limits visibility to drivers. When driving, if caught in a dust storm with limited visibility, pull off the road, as far as you can get, and park the car.
General Vehicle Safety and Maintenance
Part of safety during monsoon is knowing the information of how a storm works and how to stay safe but also part of it is preparation, knowledge of traffic rules, and general guidelines of what to do and what not to do during the monsoon season.
Prepare your vehicle. Make sure your windshield wipers are in good condition and are working properly. If they are worn, be sure to replace those right away. Check your tire tread to ensure your tires are in good condition. Check your headlights and brake lights and replace any that are out. You want to be sure you are visible during a storm.
Allow time. Traffic can be rough on a day-to-day basis but in bad weather, it can be even worse. Allow extra travel time when during inclement weather so you can get to your destination safely and on time.
Slow it down! When it rains, streets become extremely slick from the moisture and from oil and other substances. This makes it difficult for a vehicle to get traction. Drive at a steady pace and avoid jerky movements when braking, accelerating, or turning.
Tailgating in general is a bad idea butt in wet conditions it can be even worse. It takes three times linger to stop a vehicle on wet roads than on dry. Allow extra space between you and the car ahead and pay attention to the surrounding vehicles.
Put down the camera and the phone
It is only natural to want to show others what you are seeing and the desire to take pictures of the surreal beauty of that thundercloud or haboob can be extremely strong. But be cautious. Put down the phone or camera and wait until you are safely off the road to take a picture. When you are driving, stay safe, and stay focused on the road.
Zero visibility means zero driving
Visibility can be near zero when a monsoon is in force. If driving in a dangerous storm, find a safe place to park your car. If you must pull to the side of the road, pull off as far as you can, put your vehicle in park, take your foot off the brake pedal and turn off your lights. If you have your foot on the brake or have your lights on other drivers with little to no visibility might think you are on the road and try to follow you.
Overall, it is important to be safe during the monsoon. Using caution when driving in a monsoon and critical thinking to asses a situation can be crucial to your safety. Remember the safety rules of the road and be careful when driving during the monsoons. Those storms can be beautiful to watch, and awesome with power, but they can also be extremely deadly. Practicing safe driving and smart practices during the monsoon can help you get where you need to go and get there safely.