Monsoon season, and its dangers, are here
The monsoon season has finally arrived in the Southwest, including New Mexico, albeit a tiny bit late, as the season typically runs from June 15 through September 30 in the southwestern region of United States.
With monsoon season comes a full set of dangers, including strong storms that can produce large hail, damaging winds, downbursts, lightning, and torrential rains. The heavy rains bring another threat, flash flooding, to the various arroyos, or dry creeks, that are so common in the state. Extreme heat and wildfires are also significant threats during monsoon season, as the high heat and strong winds can exacerbate wildfires.
Drought in New Mexico
To make matters worse, much of the state of New Mexico is currently suffering from drought conditions, and while the rains are welcome, the dangers they present are significant. Flash floods are the main cause of death associated with weather events, as just 24 inches of water can cause a vehicle to be swept away, and rushing water that is only six inches deep can knock a person off their feet.
Officials urge caution
Officials warn individuals to avoid crossing arroyos during the monsoon season, especially if water is present in them, due to the uncertainty of what is lurking beneath the water.
Flash flooding can also occur rapidly, quickly filling the arroyos and making them dangerous due to swift moving water. The cause could be heavy rains that occurred miles away and/or at higher elevations that sends water at a high rate of speed down the mountains and in the arroyos, posing a flash flooding risk danger. The City of Albuquerque says that water in an arroyo can flow at speeds anywhere from 3 to 30 mph, washing away everything in its path.
"In hilly terrain, flash floods can strike with little or no advance warning. Within minutes, distant rain may be channeled into arroyos and ravines, turning a quiet stream into a rampaging torrent." -- City of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Flood Safety Webpage.
Predicting which arroyo will become flooded is also difficult, according to the Santa Fe Emergency Manager, Martin Vigil, as a monsoon can quickly drop a deluge of rain in a single area.
— Jorge Torres (@JorgeTWeather) August 5, 2016
The National Weather Service suggests that individuals be aware of the deadly lightning that accompanies these storms and always have a safe place to take shelter if a storm suddenly develops. Although there is only a 1 in 12,000 chance that a person may get struck by lightning, keeping a few tips in mind can go a long way in ensuring safety:
- During a thunderstorm, nowhere outside is safe, so seek shelter inside or in a hard-topped vehicle.
- A person is close enough to be struck by lightning if thunder can be heard.
- It is possible to be struck by lightning from a storm that is 30-60 miles away.
- Stay away from water, lone trees, cliffs, and outcrops.
- Avoid wiring and plumbing (no baths or showers), including appliances and corded phones; wireless devices, including cell phones are safe to use.
- Call 911 if someone is struck by lightning.