When I first moved to the desert, flash flood danger was new to me. The first time I heard the warning blare through the car radio, I nearly freaked. We called my grandmother, who had lived here for quite a few years, and she calmly told us that it was just a warning. Well, let me tell you, a flash flood warning sounded pretty intense to me! I had so much to learn. Although a warning is serious and needs to be adhered to, it doesn’t mean that the road you are driving on is about to be washed out (like I had thought).
The National Weather Service (NWS) will issue different levels of warnings, often by county or state.
FLASH FLOOD WATCH
This means that conditions favor flash flooding. This notice is usually issued 12-36 hours in advance.
FLASH FLOOD WARNING
This means that flash flooding is already being report or is imminent in about 30 minutes to an hour.
Flash floods are serious business. Do NOT ignore the watches or warnings issued by the NWS, especially if you are camping in a known “wash” area, or hiking in the canyons at Zion National Park. Flood waters, even shallow ones, can move vehicles and carry away advanced swimmers. Larger bodies of water can move boulders and large rocks, tear out trees, destroy buildings, destroy bridges, create new channels for excessive water and more.
If there have been warnings or watches issued, it is best to stay away from bodies of water. However, if you find yourself near water (creek or river) or a wash (dry or wet) then keep the following signs in mind. Get to higher ground immediately if:
- you hear distant thunder; run off from distant storms can be heading your way; blue skies do NOT mean you are safe
- watch for rapidly rising water
- water becoming muddier in a short period of time
- water begins carrying twigs, sticks, needles
Here is a great preparedness guide for dealing with flooding. Give it a read if you are heading in to a known flood area. There is also some great information online here, courtesy The Disaster Center.
Even in my little neighborhood, we can see the onslaught of flash flooding. In 2005, St. George, Utah saw the loss of numerous homes due to flooding. This flooding forced the city to reinforce the river’s edge, which has done us well in more recent years. Below is a picture by my home. This is the Virgin River (the same one that runs through Zion National Park). This is pretty close to what our little river (I call it a creek) typically looks like.
The picture below, however, was just a few days before when we had some storms around the area. The river rose to this height in just a matter of hours.
The rising water did damage all over town, like below.
Flash floods are serious business. Especially here in the desert where our soil can become quickly saturated from vast amounts of water in short periods of time. As you hike and camp in our wonderful desert oasis, please be aware of the warnings and what to watch for. We want all our family adventures to be safe ones!