When it Rains in Arizona,
it (Sometimes) Pours
It doesn’t always rain in Arizona, but when it does, people pay attention — or at least they should. That’s because when it rains, it sometimes pours hard enough to wreak havoc. If you are thinking of moving to Arizona, there are some things you should know about the rain to help keep yourself and your property safe.
By definition, Arizona is mostly desert. Much of the state is sparsely vegetated due to receiving very little rainfall. The Phoenix area typically only receives about 8 inches of rain per year, while Tucson gets closer to 12. By comparison, Dallas, TX, situated 870 miles east at roughly the same latitude, gets about 40 inches yearly.
That’s not a lot of rain, but trouble is that most of the rain occurs in the summer months and the rains are fed by moisture from the Gulf of California. The parched desert soil forms a hard, crusty barrier that is hard for rain to penetrate when it comes down quickly. Instead of being absorbed into the ground, the water flows along the path of least resistance, often leading to flooding and fast moving water.
The one-day rainfall total of 3.29 inches for Phoenix was the largest rainfall event recorded for a 24-hour period in over 75 years.
Arizona’s monsoon season officially begins on June 15 and ends September 30 every year. These summer storms can cause major headaches for locals and make headlines in national media. In the summer of 2014, a few rainstorms arrived with virtually no warning. They flooded roadways and homes, and claimed two lives. Meteorologists reported a one-day rainfall total of 3.29 inches for Phoenix, on September 18. It was the largest rainfall event recorded for a 24-hour period in over 75 years. The volume of water overwhelmed the drainage infrastructure and caused lowland flooding throughout the Valley.
Rain on the Road
Runoff causes the greatest problems on the roadways. If you are caught on the road during heavy rain, first, slow down!
1. Drive as close as you can to the center line since water tends to run towards the curb.
2. Leave plenty of room between yourself and other cars. Even as little as an inch of water can cause you to hydroplane and lose control of your car.
3. Under no circumstances should you attempt to drive on a road that is covered by water, especially if it’s flowing from one side to the other. A couple inches of water can swell to more than a foot in a very short time and cause your car to stall, or get washed away.
Did You Know — Under the Arizona “Stupid Motorist Law” (ARS 28-910) a driver who ignores barricades and warning signs and then gets in trouble while driving on a flooded road may have to pay the cost of their rescue?
Rain at Home
- Turn off all unnecessary power equipment to reduce the draw on power companies. This is a prime time for power outages.
- Keep batteries, flashlights, and a battery operated radio or TV handy.
- Stay off the phone. Even cordless phones can cause a shock when lighting strikes nearby. Use cell phones only if necessary.
- lightning can travel along metal pipes so stay away from plumbing fixtures.
- Keep away from windows. High winds can blow heavy debris.
Rain can sometimes fall so quickly that it pools up in the yard and makes its way into the home. Some homeowners have learned to keep water out with a portable sump pump. Home maintenance experts warn against running air conditioning units or pool pumps when rain puddles up around the units.
Preparation and awareness are your best tools for staying safe in the Arizona rain. When the weather moves in, listen to local weather reports for flash flood, wind and other warnings. Also, since power, gas or water service may be interrupted, every family should also have an emergency kit with enough food, water, and sturdy clothing, for up to three days. Plus,if you live in a flood zone, have an evacuation plan.
In Arizona, light rains are usually welcome since there are often periods of 60 days or more with no moisture at all. Nothing brings relief in the desert like a nice, cool rain shower. However, sometimes too much of a good thing can cause issues. By getting to know the weather patterns and taking a few steps to prepare, you can save yourself a lot of grief.