The wet Tucson months from July to early September, commonly referred to as monsoon, bring more than just rain to the Sonoran Desert. Flash floods, power outages, and lightning are all concerns posted by the spectacular season.
Last week, representatives from a number of agencies put on a safety fair at Desert Diamond Casino, reminding people of the precautions and actions they need to take.
"We all want to know what it will be like this year," said Ken Drozd, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Tucson. "I can promise you that it will be a little bit wetter than last year," which was relatively dry for a Southern Arizona monsoon.
"We can always use the rain, but we need to be prepared for these situations," said John Wisner of the Pima County Office of Emergency Management.
According to the Tohono O'odham Office of Emergency Management, flash floods are the #1 weather-related killer in Southern Arizona, followed by lightning strikes.
Monsoons also bring fallen trees and consequently damaged power lines. "Stay away, stay alive," said Joe Salkowski with Tucson Electric Power. "Even if you don't touch it, coming near is enough to cause a serious problem." He advised listeners that in case of a power line falling on an occupied car, the best plan of action is to stay in the vehicle and call for help.
Other speakers, such as Captain Trish Tracy from the Tucson Fire Department and Richard Kuaz from Southern Arizona Rescue Association, advise residents to plan ahead.
"Plan now," said Tracy. "If you constantly drive home on one route that goes through a wash, look for an alternative route now." She also encouraged the audience to keep snacks and water in the car so that there is less of an urge to get home, especially if kids are involved. Children are also advised to never play in a wash, wet or dry.
"We are always in a hurry," said Kuaz, who has been with the Rescue Association since 1964. "If we come to a flooded crossing, we want to cross right now. But plan ahead, bring a soda, and wait it out." He also asked that Tucson residents write a letter to the governor emphasizing the importance of DPS Air Rescue, the rescue helicopters that are in jeopardy of losing funding.
"People don't believe it can happen to them until it does," said Laura Kitt-Hailey, director of safety services for the Southern Arizona Chapter of the American Red Cross. "We need everyone to make a plan, talk with your family about what you would do during a monsoon if children are home alone — bring the dogs in, locate the flashlights, etc."
She also encouraged all to receive as much First Aid and CPR training as possible. "Do something to be prepared," said Kitt-Hailey.
Operation Splash, City of Tucson Department of Transportation Stormwater Management's program to deal with flash floods, was also mentioned. "If it's raining and there's a barricade up, don't drive around it," said Karen Rahn, program coordinator. "The road is closed. If you go around a barricade, it may be the last thing you ever do. When in doubt, wait it out, or find a separate route."
Stay away from power lines
Don't try to cross flooded roadways
Find an alternate route
Carry food and water
Find the flashlights