June marks the beginning of monsoon season in Arizona. While many Verde Valley residents may welcome the relief of some rain after an especially dry spring, local and state officials are bracing for the intense downpours and poor visibility that inevitably come summer monsoons.
Monsoon Awareness Week began last Sunday. The National Weather Service based in Flagstaff has been hosting Google Hangouts as well as sharing posts on their social media pages to inform the public on safety tips as well as the implications of monsoon season.
What to do if you’re caught in a monsoon
Wear a seatbelt
Travel at reduced speeds to help avoid hydroplaning once it begins raining
Check traffic around vehicle and begin to slow down
When safe to do so, completely exit the highway if possible
If you are unable to exit the highway, pull completely off the paved portion on applicable roadways
Do not wait until poor visibility to pull off the roadway
Do not stop in a travel lane or an emergency lane
Turn off all vehicle lights - you don’t want others to follow you by using your lights as a guide
Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake
Stay in your vehicle with your seatbelt buckled
Be patient and wait for the storm to pass
Before driving, inspect windshield wipers, and replace them if necessary.
Avoid sudden braking, which can cause you to slide on the wet pavement. To slow down, take your foot off the gas pedal and brake slowly.
Avoid areas where water is pooling in travel lanes; if possible, use center lanes and drive in the tracks of the vehicle ahead of you.
The tires of larger vehicles, like trucks and buses, create spray that can lessen visibility so don’t follow them too closely.
-Information provided by Arizona Department of Public Safety and Arizona Department of Transportation
According to the NWS, monsoon season is the most dangerous time of year for weather in the southwest.
“Monsoon thunderstorms can cause damaging winds, torrential rainfall, frequent lightning, and dust storms,” according to the NWS website.
What is a monsoon?
According to NWS, monsoon comes from the Arabic word “mausun,” which means seasons. For centuries, it was noted by traders along the Arabian and Indian coasts that the dry northeast winds in the winter would suddenly turn southwest in the summertime.
A similar phenomenon occurs in the American Southwest. Most of the year, low-level winds in the region blow from land toward the sea. By late spring however, solar heating causes temperatures to skyrocket and surface air pressure to fall. This forms an area of low pressure known as thermal low. Eventually, the pressure difference increases until the cooler and more humid air over the ocean is drawn to the hot, dry air on land. This occurrence eventually develops into thunderstorms.
For some areas, 50 percent of the annual rainfall occurs during monsoon season.
Dust storms and haboobs
According to NWS, dust storms or “haboobs” occur as a result of outflow winds from thunderstorms.
The term haboob also has Arabic origins and means “blasting” or “drifting.”
The dust from outflow winds can drastically reduce visibility, according to NWS. They can arrive suddenly and form a wall of dust, making driving conditions especially hazardous.
According to a 2016 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report, while only lasting a few minutes, haboobs rank No. 1 in weather-related cause for injuries in Arizona.
Lighting and flash floods
Flash floods are also common during monsoon season. NWS advises drivers to never drive into a flooded roadway.
“It only takes about 1 to 2 feet of water to float most vehicles, including SUVs,” according to the NWS website.
Lighting can strike 60 miles away from the nearest rainfall, according to NWS. The safest areas to hide include sturdy buildings and hard-topped vehicles.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey came out with a statement last week on the importance of preparedness with the upcoming weather conditions.
“With the approach of the summer monsoon season in Arizona, being prepared is key,” Ducey said. “There are simple steps every Arizona driver and passenger should follow, including always wearing your seatbelt. Our Department of Public Safety provides important guidance for traveling during dangerous weather conditions.”
DPS advises those caught in a monsoon to reduce speed to help reduce hydroplaning. The Arizona Department of Transpiration advises drivers to inspect their vehicle before driving and to avoid sudden braking on wet pavement.
Follow the NWS Facebook page or follow @NWSFlagstaff on Twitter for more tips and resources.