Cumulus clouds tower above like giant cotton balls inching across the Sedona sky. Cooler temperatures, moments with shade, and drizzling rain are all a welcomed respite from the dry heat of the Arizona sun. Hikers and photographers hitting the trails in Red Rock Country during monsoon season are often rewarded with sights of unrivaled beauty. But just as one minute an ethereal light paints the sandstone cliffs a fiery crimson and copper, swiftly approaching thunderheads looming large on the horizon threaten lightning, high winds, dust, and torrential downpours. In addition to being prepared while outdoors, it is important to be aware of potentially dangerous hazards like the chance of extreme weather conditions, to remain safe.
The National Weather Service designates June 15 as the first official day of the monsoon, and September 30 as the last day. It is worth noting that the monsoon is not an individual storm, but rather a large-scale weather pattern, which cause these summer thunderstorms. The term “monsoon” derives from the Arabic word “mausim,” which means season. Merchants of antiquity navigating the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean used it to describe the seasonal change in wind direction caused by temperature differences between the sea and land across the Tropics.
Following excessive heat, flash floods are the number two weather-related cause of death in the United States. Monsoon-generated rains frequently exceed rates of one inch per hour. This causes substantial runoff and rapid flooding of normally dry washes and other low lying areas. It is not uncommon for some arroyos or dry washes to rise as much as several feet in a matter of minutes. These flash floods can be even more dangerous in areas where forest fires have denuded the mountain slopes of vital vegetation and can cause walls of both water, mud, and other debris, to violently rush downstream. Earlier this summer in Sedona, where one such devastating forest fire has already scorched large parts of the Canyon along Oak Creek, residents and visitors spending time outside must be prepared for any inclement weather in order to stay safe.
Since the Slide Fire occurred, there have been concerns regarding flooding as well as emergency preparedness. In addition to having a family emergency plan and adequate emergency supplies, including food and water, residents are encouraged to sign up for CodeRED Emergency Alerts. CodeRED is an emergency notification system that serves both Coconino and Yavapai County. Public safety officials can remotely send recorded emergency information to a large majority of residents to alert in the event of wildland fires, neighborhood evacuations, road closures, natural disasters, and any other theoccurrence that may affect public safety.
If you have any questions regarding your emergency preparedness, contact Sedona Fire District at 928-282-6800.
All area residents may register their phone numbers by accessing CodeRED for Coconino County at http://www.coconino.az.gov/index.aspx?nid=207
Sedona residents may access the City’s system at www.sedonaAZ.gov. Go to “Sign Up for Emergency Alerts” on the center of the page.
Yavapai County residents may access CodeRED at www.regionalinfo-alert.org. Go to “Emergency Notification System on the right side of the page.
Flash floods are not the only monsoon-related weather danger. During the months of July and August, the monsoon region in the desert Southwest becomes the most active area for lightning in the Western Hemisphere. While total safety from lightning cannot be assured, knowledge and good judgment can help you reduce risk.
Consider the following tips for a safe outdoor experience:
- Before you hit the trail, monitor weather conditions through the NOAA Weather Radio or another news source.
- Be mindful of swift wind shifts, rapid cooling of temperature and increasing wind velocity. These are signs for thunderstorm activity.
- If you are hiking and a storm hits, avoid washes, large bodies of water, narrow canyons with steep slopes, and other low lying areas. At the same time, it is important to stay off mountain peaks and ridges.
- If there is lightning, do not huddle closely together with other people. Spread out. Instead of sheltering under a single tree, head to a heavily wooded area. Be sure to avoid wide open areas as you do not want to be the tallest object around.
- If your hair starts to stand on end, that is a sign of electrical energy and you may be about to be struck by lightning. As a last resort, drop to your knees and cover your head.
The National Park Service has compiled a list of 10 Summer Hiking Essentials along with additional advice to ensure a fun and safe outdoor experience. Hiking in monsoon season can be one of the best times to hit the trail all year, but do not rely on your physical strength alone; hiking smart will take you much farther.