July 20, 2008

Monsoons Demand Respect, Extreme Caution

Our view: Newcomers, longtime desert dwellers must heed nature's warnings

Desert dwellers come to love and respect the heavy rains of the monsoon for their beauty, the welcome reprieve they offer from the summer heat and their power. But anyone who has experienced the power of the summer storms also understands the terrible force they can unleash.

Monsoon storms can bring obvious damage in downed powerlines or uprooted trees. But their biggest dangers run deeper - and faster.

Tucsonans new to the desert - and those unwise enough to think they can best Mother Nature - may not fully appreciate the damage the monsoon storms can do.

This is one of the reasons every summer a few motorists find themselves stuck in a wash and in danger.

If they're lucky, they are rescued uninjured from swift waters. The worst that happens is a wrecked or lost car and a bill under Arizona's aptly named "Stupid Motorist Law," which allows agencies to fine a driver up to $2,000 if he or she has gone around or removed barricades or warning signs.

If they're unlucky, motorists are injured or worse. Last year a 60-year-old Tucson man was killed after his Ford SUV was swept away by water in the Rodeo Wash on the South Side and became stuck under a railroad bridge. No one deserves such a fate.

Many washes are marked with barricade signs, yet some drivers insist on going around them and through what appears to be shallow water. Washes can run deeper and much more powerful than they look on the surface, so it's best to find another route or wait for the water to recede.

But the swiftness of the storms also means that many washes crossing Tucson roads may lack warning signs. This is where common sense comes in. It's best to respect the water and not attempt to cross, even if it looks like no big deal.

Care must also be taken when hiking, especially in places like Sabino Canyon, where rains from high above on Mount Lemmon can come crashing down without a drop having fallen in the canyon below.

Sometimes people unfamiliar with the monsoons can take risks of which they are not aware.

Last summer, two hikers - one a lifeguard - were overcome by fast- moving water in Bear Canyon in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area and were killed. Dozens of other hikers were in the same area when the water came rushing through. Many found higher ground, but others had to be rescued by a helicopter.

Tucsonans can do their neighbors and co-workers new to do the desert a favor by explaining the dangers of the monsoon.

No one drives into swift-moving water or goes hiking thinking they'll be swept away. The cost of misjudging is simply too high to risk it.


* Arizona's "Stupid Motorist Law" allows authorities to prosecute people who knowingly enter a wash that is barricaded.

* The law allows municipalities to levy a $2,000 fine against motorists who remove or drive around barricades at a wash.


* Pay attention to all warning signs. If you see a sign that says "Do Not Enter When Flooded," believe it and do as the sign says.

* Be careful when approaching a wash during a storm, even if it's not raining in that area. Rain can flood washes from miles away.

* If a road is blocked with barricades or even if it only has a standing warning sign, turn around and take another route.

* Stay away from roads that look flooded, even if there are no warning signs. Drivers also can wait until the water recedes.

* If you or someone else is trapped in high water, call 911.

* If you are caught in a wash, try to climb out on the roof of your vehicle and wait for help. Use your cell phone, if available, to call 911.

SOURCE: Arizona Daily Star archives


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