We often hear about monsoons and flash floods they can cause. I’ve seen cars lost in flooded washes, and known of people who drowned as water rushed through normally dry washes. Water, something we use, and need, every day can cause an overwhelming about of destruction.
First of all, what is a flash flood? I found this definition:
A flood caused by heavy
or excessive rainfall in a short period of time, generally less than 6 hours. Flash floods are usually characterized by raging torrents after heavy rains that rip through river beds, urban streets, or mountain canyons sweeping everythingbefore them. They can occur within minutes or a few hours of excessive rainfall. They can also occur even if no rain has fallen, for instance after a levee or dam has failed, or after a sudden release of water by a debris or ice jam.
In 1890, heavy rains deluged Arizona Territory for three days almost nonstop. Snow in the mountains melted and a newly completed dam broke. Rivers overflowed their banks and 50 people downstream from the dam drowned in the flood waters. In 1896, in Southern Arizona, in the town of Benson, two sudden storms occurred in the mountains. Flash floods swept through Benson costing the lives of two mothers and four children. These are a couple of the many accounts of flash floods.
Prior to bridges, people often had to wait until the flood waters receded to get back home or to get to town for supplies. People learned to study the flow of the land so they would know where they could safely build houses. In the Southwest, dry river beds were often deceptive because when flash floods occurred, the water would exceed the boundaries of any wash or riverbed.
In the book, Doing What the Day Brought: An Oral History of Arizona Women (Mary Logan Rothschild, Pamela Claire Hronek), Edna Phelps, who lived on a rural farm in Phoenix, describes the flash floods as being, “rushing, bilious, yellow-looking.” She describes daytime floods as being more catastrophic than night time because of the farm stock that would be endangered. Often her chickens would get caught in the flow, or the back wash of water. She says of the chickens, “I tried artificial respiration on some of them and managed to pump the water out [of] their little ribs and lungs after they seemed to be dead and some of them perked up and ran off and were happy ever after.”
Maintenance of dams was crucial to prevent flash floods and loss of life. When a
dam burst a wall of water had the potential to wipe out everything down stream. Buildup of silt and heavy rains sometimes caused dams to collapse.
In the book, Flash Floods in Texas (Jonathan Burnett), is a firsthand account of by a witness to a dam breaking in Austin in 1900. “I was gazing intently at the great body of water as it swept gracefully over the crest of the dam…I noticed commotion of the waters near the center of the dam…[the water] shot upward in a tremendous spout to a height of perhaps fifty feet. He goes on to describe the fury of the water released and the horror of the cries of the people.
Even today, we must be careful during rains in the desert and flooding season. When I lived in Arizona, every year, I would hear about someone drowning in the unexpected onslaught of water while they tried to cross a dry wash. One of the largest floods in Arizona occurred in 1983. In that flood, we lost our home and could have lost our lives if the flood waters had come up at night.
Have you ever experienced a flood, or seen a flash flood? Click here to view a
video on the devastation of a flood in Glen Canyon. In my latest release, Sonoran Secret, in The Bride’s Agreement collection, my hero and heroine experience the terror of a flash flood. Please leave a comment below to be entered in a drawing for a copy of The Bride’s Agreement.
Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and two grandsons. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.