Anatomy of a killer flash flood

Posted: Updated:
The Water Wheel Swimming Hole before and after the flash flood on Saturday. (Source: azswimmingholes.com/Amy Lloyd) The Water Wheel Swimming Hole before and after the flash flood on Saturday. (Source: azswimmingholes.com/Amy Lloyd)
What the watef flow usually looks like at the Water Wheel Swimming Hole. (Source: azswimmingholes.com) What the watef flow usually looks like at the Water Wheel Swimming Hole. (Source: azswimmingholes.com)
The flash flood came fast at the popular swimming hole. (Source: Amy Lloyd) The flash flood came fast at the popular swimming hole. (Source: Amy Lloyd)
This is a map of where Ellison Creek, Arizona is. (Source: Google Maps) This is a map of where Ellison Creek, Arizona is. (Source: Google Maps)
The burn scar from the Highline Fire is just north of Payson and close to the swimming hole. (Source: 3TV Graphics) The burn scar from the Highline Fire is just north of Payson and close to the swimming hole. (Source: 3TV Graphics)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

There was a tragedy on Ellison Creek, right near the confluence of the East Verde River north of Payson this weekend when a flash flood claimed nine lives.

One person is still missing but presumed dead. The incident apparently took place at a favorite water pool called the Water Wheel. The first two attached pictures are a before and during picture of the area struck by the flash flood.

[READ MORE: 9 killed, 1 missing after flash flood tears through swimming hole near Payson]

This is the classic example of why we’re so concerned about flash flooding after major wildfires. The Highline Fire burned for weeks in the Rim Country.

Saturday, up to 1.5" of rain fell in about 20 minutes right on top of the burned area. That water and debris which was picked up fed rapidly via washes and small creeks into Ellison Creek.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Monsoon 2017]

There, the black, viscous, water turned west and barreled toward the Water Wheel swimming hole, where it hadn’t rained much at all. The water was basically following a funnel right toward the unknowing swimmers.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Weather blog]

[APP USERS: Click/tap here to animation of flash flood]

In moments, the creek went from docile to deadly. The USGS flow gauges on the East Verde are not working so we don’t know how much water was plunging down the narrow gap.

[APP USERS: Click/tap here to video of the flooding at Water Wheel]  

It is a scary scenario and one that should remind all of us that flash flooding can occur even in places where it hasn’t rained. And the threat is even greater in the mountains of Arizona.

[RELATED: Loved one remembers family who died together in flash flood north of Payson]

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Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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