GILA COUNTY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Flash flooding is a major concern in the monsoon. A dry wash can instantly transform into a killer wall of water. Every year, we witness dozens of rescues out of rushing water.
To help you stay safe, Arizona's Weather Authority has put together a Monsoon special. It will include all of the details you need to know to stay safe this monsoon.
Gila County is very susceptible to flash flooding. The rugged terrain of the county stretches from Payson to Globe and includes some of the most remote areas of the state. There are thousands of washes that can erupt into a flash flood. Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd recalls one of the worst calls his agency got when a flash flood killed a family of 10 in July of 2017.
A man tried to warn people to get out of the way of a flash flood near Payson on Saturday and shared cell phone video he shot.
“The family had come up and was at a very popular area where water wasn't raging. It wasn't in flood stage or anything like that. But the storm that caused the flood was further up on the drainage. When the rainstorm hit, it dumped all that water all at once, which is what we tend to get in Arizona. It sent that creek into flood stage in no time whatsoever.”
A flash flood can occur anywhere in Arizona. But the threat is larger near recent wildfires.
Just last summer, a monsoon storm claimed the life of a beloved teacher who was surprised by a flash flood in the Globe area just last summer.
“By the time the rain started coming down on them, they got turned around and tried to get out of there. It was already to flood stage. It completely washed the vehicle out. There was no place to go. It's kind of unbelievable, when you think about it sometimes, that something could go from practically nothing to that stage in a matter of minutes without any kind of warning,” Sheriff Shepherd recounted.
Catherine Canez, 52, of Miami, was swept away in the rushing waters and she did not survive. Her body was found about a mile downstream from the truck.
There's a lot of ground to cover in Gila County, nearly 5,000 square miles, and Sheriff Shepherd says his office depends on a large volunteer group to assist in quick water rescues and other calamities the monsoon brings. They train for the worst.
“You have to have your skills up-to-date to where your swiftwater and divers are all ready to go,” said Shepherd.
It all starts with a driver or hiker standing next to running water. Sheriff Shepherd, who's seen hundreds of rushing washes, says what's under the fast-moving water can be dangerous.
“Looking at that water, you simply cannot see what's underneath. You don't know, especially if it's been raging for a while, how much undercutting has been done. You don't know how much of that roadbed underneath has been eroded away and washed down the creek,” said Shepherd.
And the sheriff reminds us all about our personal responsibility when the weather turns bad.
“If you get a gut feeling that something doesn't feel right, there's probably a good reason for that. We all have survival instincts. That’s when it’s time to turn around and get out of there,” said Shepherd.