STATEWIDE -- Although there's no sign of it in the forecast, the monsoon -- Arizona's summer thunderstorm season -- is almost here. The official start of the season is June 15.
Until the National Weather Service designated that date in 2008, the Arizona monsoon was heralded by three consecutive days of dew points of 55 degrees of higher.
In an effort to shift the focus to preparation and safety, the NWS solidified the season's timeline. Every year, it starts on June 15 and ends of Sept. 30, regardless of the dew point.
For the third year, the Arizona Department of Transportation is spending the week leading up to the start of the Arizona monsoon working to educate drivers about the threat of dust storms. The agency calls it Monsoon Awareness Week.
ADOT and its partners - the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the National Weather Service - show motorists the real meaning of "Pull Aside, Stay Alive" with new television and radio public-education announcements that focus on the devastating outcomes for drivers who try to drive through dust storms.
The new public-education announcement focuses on a recent dust-related fatal crash along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson. The "911 Call" announcement illustrates what can happen to drivers who do not heed the "Pull Aside, Stay Alive" message. Audio of 911 calls from the crash are heard against visuals of emergency personnel moving among crushed vehicles and semi-trucks surrounded by blowing dust.
ADOT's mission is to provide valuable information to drivers before they get caught in a low-visibility dust storm. The agency's top recommendation is to avoid driving into a wall of dust at all costs.
"Driving into a dust storm is very dangerous, but the key is that oftentimes it can be avoided," ADOT Director John Halikowski said. "Drivers must be ready to alter their plans if there is a threat of a dust storm. It's better to change plans than try to power through dangerous conditions. But if you're on the road and a dust storm suddenly appears near you, pull off the highway as quickly and safely as possible. Never drive through a dust storm. It's not a risk worth taking."
If you do have to pull off the roadway, you probably will not have to wait too long for the danger to pass. Monsoon dust storms tend to move quickly.
Because dust storms develop fast, particularly along the I-10 corridor between Phoenix and Tucson, ADOT uses several methods to get information to drivers. These include electronic highway message boards, social and traditional media, communication with ADOT staff and law enforcement officers in the field, television and radio advertising, and close coordination with partnering agencies.
Tips for drivers who encounter a dust storm:
- Avoid driving into or through a dust storm.
- If you encounter a dust storm, check traffic immediately around your vehicle (front, back and to the side) and begin slowing down.
- Do not wait until poor visibility makes it difficult to safely pull off the roadway - do it as soon as possible. Completely exit the highway if you can.
- Do not stop in a travel lane or in the emergency lane; look for a safe place to pull completely off the paved portion of the roadway.
- Stop the vehicle in a position ensuring it is a safe distance from the main roadway and away from where other vehicles may travel.
- Turn off all vehicle lights, including your emergency flashers.
- Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake.
- Stay in the vehicle with your seat belts buckled and wait for the storm to pass.
- Drivers of high-profile vehicles should be especially aware of changing weather conditions and travel at reduced speeds.
A driver's alertness and safe driving ability are always the top factors in preventing crashes.
For the most current information about highway closures and restrictions statewide, visit ADOT's Travel Information Site at az511.gov or call 511.