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Monsoon Safety Terminology

Dust Storms

A dust storm usually arrives suddenly in the form of an advancing wall of dust and debris which may be miles long and several thousand feet high. They strike with little warning, making driving conditions hazardous. Blinding, choking dust can quickly reduce visibility, causing accidents that may involve chain collisions, creating massive pileups. Dust storms usually last only a few minutes, but the actions a motorist takes during the storm may be the most important of his or her life.

If dense dust is observed blowing across or approaching a roadway, pull your vehicle off the pavement as far as possible, stop, turn off lights, set the emergency brake, take your foot off of the brake pedal to be sure the tail lights are not illuminated. In the past, motorists driving in dust storms have pulled off the roadway, leaving lights on. Vehicles approaching from the rear and using the advance car's lights as a guide have inadvertently left the roadway and in some instances collided with the parked vehicle. Make sure all of your lights are off when you park off the roadway. Don't enter the dust storm area if you can avoid it.

If you can't pull off the roadway, proceed at a speed suitable for visibility, turn on lights and sound horn occasionally. Use the painted center line to help guide you. Look for a safe place to pull off the roadway. Never stop on the traveled portion of the roadway.

During threatening weather listen to commercial radio or television or NOAA Weather Radio for Dust Storm Warnings. A Dust Storm Warning means visibility of 1/2 mile or less due to blowing dust or sand.

Downbursts/Damaging Winds

Unlike other parts of the country, thunderstorm wind gusts here in the Southwest almost always exceed 40 mph. The strongest wind gusts can exceed 100 mph, and can produce damage similar to a tornado! Anytime a thunderstorm approaches, no matter how weak it seems, move indoors to avoid flying debris. Winds rushing down from a thunderstorm can develop very quickly.

When a Severe Thunderstorm Warning is in effect, it means damaging wind gusts of 60 mph or higher are occurring or likely. Move into a central interior room. Stay away from windows. Unanchored mobile homes are NOT safe in any severe thunderstorm, and even anchored mobile homes can be heavily damaged in winds over 80 mph. Move to a more sturdy structure.

Stay away from trees. The vast majority of people are killed or injured in severe thunderstorms by trees falling on them, from flying debris, or from downed power lines. Never touch a downed power line, even if it appears dead. Assume that it is live. Call for help instead.

Straight line winds can travel dozens of miles away from the thunderstorm that produced them. If the wind suddenly shifts and blows toward you from an approaching storm, while the temperature either becomes much colder or much hotter, the winds are likely to become even stronger. Move indoors!

Before the monsoon season, it is a good idea to either secure loose outdoor furniture and garbage cans, or move them indoors. These are frequently blown around in our summer thunderstorms - even the weakest ones.

Flash Floods

Flash floods are common in the Southwest. There are thousands of low water crossing and dips which flood every summer. Know where they are, and avoid them during heavy rains. If you find yourself in a situation where flash flooding is occurring, get to higher ground quickly.

Never drive into a flooded roadway. The water depth is very easy to misjudge, and the road itself may be damaged or destroyed underneath the murky water. Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers. It only takes about 1 to 2 feet of water to float most vehicles, including SUVs. Never drive around barricades. They are there for a reason - usually because flash flooding is about to take place, is already happening or the road is damaged by flooding and is unsafe. Find an alternate route or exercise patience and wait for the flooding to subside.

Even 6 inches of fast-moving flood waters can knock you off your feet, and a depth of 2 feet will float your car. Never try to walk, swim or drive through such swift water. Never allow children to play near washes or storm drains after any rainfall, no matter how light. These flood easily and rapidly, and storm drains are usually so large that children can be swept away.

Beware of distant thunderstorms, especially if they're over mountains. Flash flooding can occur many miles away from the thunderstorm as the runoff flows into the valleys and deserts.

Do not camp overnight or park your vehicle along/near streams and washes during the monsoon. Although many of our thunderstorms occur during the afternoon and evening, some of our worst flash floods have occurred in the middle of the night. Hikers and mountain bikers should try to get out earlier in the day to avoid the dangers of not only flash flooding, but also lightning. Wherever you are hiking during the monsoon, be aware of your escape routes, follow ranger instructions, and be prepared to move to higher ground quickly.

Lightning Lightning can strikes up to 60 miles away from the nearest rainfall. If you hear thunder, you are close enough to a storm to be struck by lightning. Go to a safe place immediately! The safest locations are sturdy buildings and hard-topped vehicles. Wait there until 30 minutes AFTER the last rumble of thunder is heard. Get away from open areas, including armadas, porches, trees, convertible cars, swimming pools, and open areas.

Plan outdoor activities to avoid being outside between mid afternoon and mid evening, especially in higher elevations where lightning is more common. If you are outdoors when lightning becomes a danger, find a low spot away from trees, fences and poles.

When indoors, do not touch any wires or plumbing inside a building. Telephone lines and metal pipes can conduct electricity. Unplug appliances not necessary for obtaining weather information. Avoid using corded telephones or any electrical appliance. Use phones ONLY in an emergency. Remember to bring pets indoors. Lightning and thunder are very scary for pets, and they are likely to panic or even run away to try and escape the storm. If someone is struck by lightning, call 911 immediately.

Click here for additional lightning safety information.