Tucson Lightning

Lightning over Tucson Arizona during the Summer Monsoon season.

Cats and dogs ran for higher ground when the HOPE Animal Shelter flooded during the torrential downpours of last year’s monsoon. The flooding, which came both from the doors and the roof, displaced dozens of animals and trapped staff for multiple hours. 

As a result of the flooding, HOPE received thousands of dollars in community donations. This assistance helped fund months of work repairing damaged rooms and fortifying the shelter’s ground against future downpours. 

The 2018 monsoon, which also saw a train derailment during a deluge, proved to be an endurance test for for local municipalities. HOPE Animal Shelter is just one of many local businesses and departments preparing for this year’s monsoon, which is expected to arrive later than usual, though still in full force. 

Every June, the Pima County Office of Emergency Management and National Weather Service present “Monsoon Safety Awareness Week” to the Pima County Board of Supervisors. This year, Monsoon Safety Awareness Week lasts from June 9 to June 14. Members of Pima County OEM spoke at the Board of Supervisors meeting on June 4 and encouraged locals to visit myalerts.pima.gov to receive emergency notifications during severe weather events.

Aside from Pima County, local towns like Marana are readying and restructuring their “storm preparedness plans” after last year’s downpour. 

“We’re a pretty big town, so we try to make sure we spread our staff and resources out evenly,” said Daniel Silva, street supervisor for Marana’s Public Works Department. 

The Public Works Department arranges Marana into four districts to better manage equally spreading support during monsoons. These district divisions are one of the main changes in this year’s storm preparedness plan. 

During a monsoon on July 10, 2018, a Union Pacific train derailed between Avra Valley and Twin Peaks roads, scattering 27 rail cars across the train tracks and surrounding area. Whereas public works previously organized its support systems in east and west directions, during the derailment and subsequent cleanup, the department realized it would be more efficient to organize from north to south. 

“Last year was quite a test,” Silva said. “But we came together as a town and managed to get through it.” 

After the July 10 storm, the Town of Marana’s Public Works Department replaced some 800 feet of asphalt and pavement, and cleared dirt and debris off of 40 miles of road. But monsoon cleanup also includes preparedness. During this cleanup, workers also note flood-prone locations to be reinforced with sandbags.

According to Town of Marana Communications Manager Vic Hathaway, the storm preparedness plan “includes designated sandbag distribution locations for town residents, but is only activated if the division deems necessary.” Locations for possible sandbag distribution will be released at a later date, if necessary.

Marana’s storm preparedness plan incorporates the police department, the water department, the parks and recreation department, engineering, and the public works department. 

“As a town, we almost all get involved,” Silva said. “And we all work really well together, thankfully.” 

The 2019 monsoon season is expected to be delayed due to the relatively cool temperatures so far this year. Tucson experienced its coolest May in more than 40 years, according to the National Weather Service. In addition, this recent winter saw larger than average snowpack in the Rocky Mountains (as well as some around Tucson) which is expected to keep air in the southwest cooler.

For monsoon season to begin, high pressure systems must move north and warm up for monsoons to form. Tucson will most likely see a typical amount of rainfall this monsoon season, just later in the year.

“Really the monsoon outlook this year is a two-part story,” said meteorologist Ken Drozd at the Board of Supervisors meeting on June 4. “The latter part of the monsoon we are expecting an upswing in precipitation as we get in to August and September.”

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