Unusual Weather Events: Gully Washers and Upside-Down Rivers

When the Hassayampa river flows, the water runs south and downward toward the Phoenix metro area.
When the Hassayampa river flows, the water runs south and downward toward the Phoenix metro area.
In 2004, a heavy rainfall filled the banks of the Hassayampa and the water carried several houses and a few cars with it in the torrent of flood waters.
In 2004, a heavy rainfall filled the banks of the Hassayampa and the water carried several houses and a few cars with it in the torrent of flood waters.
This car was swept away.
This car was swept away.
These homes were riverside properties. Most of the year, the Hassayampa River is bone dry.
These homes were riverside properties. Most of the year, the Hassayampa River is bone dry.

After a very frightening trip to the grocery store tonight, I've decided that Arizona is experiencing the worst rain storm since I moved here in 2002. Apparently, Governer Jan Brewer agrees with me because she has issued a State of Emergency for the entire state of Arizona.

After months of dry winter weather, we're experiencing a winter rainfall unlike anything I have seen. Arizona has always had pretty severe weather. In the Sonoran desert, steep hilly countryside can turn deadly in only hours when a heavy storm hits. The snow or rain may fall heavily in the high country, and sudden then a torrent of water is flowing through dry riverbeds and dry sandy washes, which to the untrained eye, may not appear to be what they truly are: rivers waiting for their moment.

When the sky unleashes powerful storms, water pours from the sky and quickly fills the normally placid creeks till they are swollen and overflowing. Then the water flows to the sandy washes, which have been catching desert water runoff for millenia. The super-fine sand becomes silt and mud and flows through raging walls of white water. Sometimes washes only look a foot or so deep, but this is very deceptive. Every year, someone is swept away in their vehicles at a "Do not Cross when Flooded Sign." This is in fact, so common, that Arizona has enacted a stupid motorist law. Basically, if you have to be removed from a wash when you clearly went in a clearly-marked area, you can expect to pay for the emergency vehicles and the personnell who rescued you.

I guess in country where the temperatures swing daily by about 40 degrees, and midsummer highs can top out at 125 degrees, more extreme weather is par for the course. But the weather took me by Surprise today. A lot of things about Surprise, where I now live, have taken me by Surprise. Like the water drainage areas in our housing development.

Every single public common area in our development is underwater right now. Not a foot or even two, but the community parks are now lakes. Apparently they are designed for this purpose, as drainage overflow, but it is a strange sight to suddenly see a 6 or 7 foot deep man-made lake in my neighborhood.

I never realized that in the city, water would flow like in the country. Something about living in an Arizona city had me convinced that man-made structures could somehow tame nature.

Then tonight happened. A tent from a Scottsdale car show blew onto one of Phoenix metro area's major highways. Land slides have closed 1-17, and a tornado touched down again in Scottsdale. Meanwhile at home I could barely make it out of my neighborhood. Thank goodness for SUV's!

After living in Wickenburg I am well-aware of the dangers of crossing flooded roads, and I was terrified today when I ran to the store at 9:00 p.m. to get milk for my young children. I fear I won't be able to make it back to the grocery store for three or four days if the rain continues, or worse yet, that my house will flood when the overflow drainage areas in my neighborhood fill to capacity and have nowhere to go.

I knew I was in trouble when I started driving out of the neighborhood onto one of the main city streets. The wind picked up and started pulling the shallow-rooted desert trees along the boulevard. They swayed terribly, and looked like they might topple right onto my roof. I drove as quickly as I could, hoping for safety on the main east-west road. For about a block, the road shared a long, edge-hugging puddle with the ditch along the side, but my teeth dropped into my stomach when I saw a flooded intersection in front of me. A police car with its lights flashing stood trapped on the other side of the road, in an island of high ground. Driftwood was flowing in the water. Against my better judgement, I pulsed ahead, hoping that it would be the deepest water I encountered. But it wasn't, and I know I was being tremendously stupid, but I plowed through it, with about 10 more cars behind me. The water stood at least 18 inches deep in some spots. I felt like I was canoeing.

I don't say any of this glibly. It was terrifying. I knew I couldn't turn around and didn't know what to expect next. I didn't want my car to become water-logged and have heard my share of stories about people who ventured into flooded waters, thinking their cars could handle it. But I couldn't turn around. Fortunately, I was able to turn onto a state highway that is elevated well above the surrounding farm lands, and made it safely to the grocery store without further incident.

I tried very hard to pay attention to which cross streets looked the least flooded and made a plan of attack for my return trip home. At the grocery store I stocked up on D batteries for my flashlight, ice cream (for my nerves) and bought enough milk and orange juice to fill my refrigerator to bursting. I figure it will last about 4 days. But if the rain continues to beat down, I will begin rationing it while I start building my raft.


Arizona Underwater

This week we got more rain in Arizona than we typically get in a year.
This week we got more rain in Arizona than we typically get in a year.
Arizona is underwater. These Neighborhood greenbelt areas double as common areas and drainage pathways. This one is completely underwater.
Arizona is underwater. These Neighborhood greenbelt areas double as common areas and drainage pathways. This one is completely underwater.
This park, centrally located within our community and near our school, was under about 6 feet of water yesterday. The high water line can be seen on the banks.
This park, centrally located within our community and near our school, was under about 6 feet of water yesterday. The high water line can be seen on the banks.
The drainage areas are still flooding into some of the streets, but water levels have decreased dramatically.
The drainage areas are still flooding into some of the streets, but water levels have decreased dramatically.
Empty irrigation ditches were brimming to the top at the height of the storm. The worst seems to be over.
Empty irrigation ditches were brimming to the top at the height of the storm. The worst seems to be over.
A gaggle of geese have taken up residence along the sheltered banks of the temporary lake.
A gaggle of geese have taken up residence along the sheltered banks of the temporary lake.

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Comments 17 comments

The Rope profile image

The Rope 6 years ago from SE US

Thanks for sharing your experience. I never realized the AZ could get so much rain! Glad you made it home okay... :)


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank for sharing your problems. Although it was a nice read for me but nevertheless felt and shared you anciety. It was interesting to find out about the weather of Arizona of which I haven't had a clue. Hope everything goes well with you and your family. All the very best wishes.


maven101 profile image

maven101 6 years ago from Northern Arizona

Those cross gullies can be extremely dangerous...They started putting up depth indicator poles where streets cross these gullies, which helps a lot in decision making of when to cross or not cross...We are getting a lot of snow and slush here up north...the Verde is swollen and overflowing its banks around Clarkdale and Cottonwood...Luckily we live on a mesa 1200 feet above the river...Stay safe, this won't last forever...Larry


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

The unexpected can sometimes be the norm. The Mississippi River which I've lived near most of my life was constantly flooding in the Davenport, Iowa/Moline, Ill area where I lived for 20years. Sometimes worse than others. One year a little creek called "Duck Creek" flooded and covered a large area of nearby houses. My wife said she thought Air force I was going to clip our house when President Clinton came to offer support. I think people in Minneapolis, MN may still be talking about the tornadoes in the Spring of 1965.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

@The Rope, I had no idea Arizona could get so much either. The Intermountain West (Idaho, Utah, and Arizona) have been experiencing a drought for about 10 years. It's about time it rained. Thanks for wishing me safely home!

@Hello, Hello: Thank you. The weather here can be simply spectacular. Next time I will be sure to stock up on milk for the babies earlier and enjoy the show from the window of my own home.

@Maven101: Larry, I thought about you up there when I wrote this hub. I hope you are safe! They said the worst of it would be Thursday night. Fortunately it hasn't rained all day in Surprise, though the clouds are still glowering off and on.

@Dahoglund: I can only imagine the flooding that would occur near the Mississippi River. Remember when New Orleans flooded and President Bush circled overhead in his plane? It was a PR fiasco. But that is for another hub, I guess. We are better off than I thought. Disaster could have struck if we had gotten rain all day, but fortunately we had a reprieve.


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

That was so well written I thought I was reading an exciting novel till I thought of "Oh No!!" She has to get BACK from the grocery store. She can't stay there. It must have been truly terryfying. Glad you got home safe and hope the weather improves. Take care.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks so much Dim. I got home safely, thank goodness!


RealEstateHelper profile image

RealEstateHelper 6 years ago

My friend is in AZ and she says the storm was pretty bad. Well written article and I am glad that you made it home safe.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks, RealEstateHelper. It was a big storm. In Wenden, a smaller town west of Wickenburg, the storm was apparently pretty devastating. We are going to be part of a clean up crew to help people in that community clean up their debris next weekend. The only issue is that more rain is in the forecast for that weekend!


Springboard profile image

Springboard 6 years ago from Wisconsin

Now, when this sort of thing happens do property values go up? Hmm, it's waterfront property now. Sorry. That was corny. Hope the weather turns out for the best for you. :)


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

The geese seemed to like the lake, but it is already gone! This flood took many of us by surprise. We were a hair's breadth away from sandbagging our front doors! Some central Phoenix residents actually had water damage inside their homes. I don't mind your corny comment though. We Arizonans would welcome almost anything to help increase property values--almost!


susansisk profile image

susansisk 6 years ago from Georgia, USA

Good reading, and beautiful pictures. I guess all of us from the east coast just think of Arizona as being dry all the time.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks Susan, I did it mah-self, with shake and bake! But seriously, I couldn't resist taking the pictures. Usually the desert is very dry. That's why rain is such a big event around here. :)


sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 6 years ago

You really brought it to life so I could imagine what it was like for you. It's really interesting to know how people live in various areas of the country.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks sheilab, most people who live in the Phoenix area don't imagine that they will have to prepare for a flood. Out in Wickenburg, where I used to live, it is more common to experience seasonal flooding, but this was a frightening one-of-a-kind experience. In the future I hope to be better prepared, because you just never know!


Cathi Sutton profile image

Cathi Sutton 6 years ago

Great Hub, and WONDERFUL pictures! My 19 year old son is in Prescott, going to school and working. Being a "flat lander", when he first got there he had adjustment issues dealing with the altitude, but soon called to say, "I think I want to be a mountain man when I grow up"! He was snowed in durning the winter storms! But he never sends pictures of anything. (Boys will be boys). Thanks for the great read, and those outstanding photos! I'm a new fan!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks Cathi, I had to grab my camera when this all happened. The photo opportunities were just everywhere. My children and I went on a walk around the neighborhood and took photos for a few hours the day after the events I wrote about occurred. I was so surprised that the flood waters receded so quickly. Surprise is a pretty area but much flatter than Prescott, as you know. Wickenburg is about an hour south of Prescott. You would enjoy visiting there and especially seeing the Vulture Peak area, which has a saguaro forest that would rival anything in Tucson. When you eventually go out to visit your son, please take the time to drive from Prescott to Skull Valley, which is much more beautiful than the name would suggest. I know of at least one artist that lives there. Thanks for being a fan. I read some of your hubs and also became your fan too!

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