Unusual Weather Events: Gully Washers and Upside-Down Rivers
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.