Famous Last Words: “I Can Make It”

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This one hit home for me because of the location, but it’s a scenario that unfortunately plays out all too often during the summer. Just days ago in Arizona, the local sheriff’s department plucked two stranded hikers from a flooded canyon by helicopter. I grew up in that area and many years ago used to hike in that very canyon. Along with everyone else who’s spent a summer in the deserts of the Southwest, I’m also familiar with the flash floods that can quickly overwhelm the usually bone-dry washes and arroyos. For those new to the area, though, they can be an unpleasant, even deadly, surprise.

According to an Associated Press article, 595 people have died in floodwaters in the US over the past six years, 61% of them in vehicles. Despite barriers and warning signs, many try to drive through moving waters. The problem, of course, is that you can’t really see how deep the water is until you’re in it, and most people underestimate the power of even slow-moving water to lift and carry a car. Depending on the size of the vehicle, less than a foot is sufficient.

My father, who still lives in Tucson, recalls working as a teenager in the 1940s in a shop near an underpass running beneath the railroad tracks. Officially called the Stone Avenue Underpass, it’s still known locally as “Lake Elmira” because it frequently floods during summer rains—“right up to the top,” as he describes it. He and his friends would spend breaks on rainy days watching as people tried to drive through the rising water, sometimes being forced to abandon their cars, which would “float like beetles.”

Time apparently hasn’t improved people’s judgment, and cities spend serious money trying to keep people from doing exactly that. In Las Vegas, for example—a city also prone to flash flooding and one that attracts more out-of-town visitors than just about anyplace else—the Clark County Regional Flood Control District has invested in billboard campaigns with not-so-subtle messages (photos of a half-submerged car with the caption “I.Q. Testing in Progress” or “Famous Last Words: ‘I Can Make It’”) in English and Spanish to alert people of the dangers. (You can see some of them here.) And the National Hurricane Center, acknowledging that 90% of hurricane-related deaths are caused by water rather than wind, is improving its warning system to give people better advance notice of floods and storm surges.

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If you’re in a flood-prone area, is there a strong public education effort in place to alert people to the dangers of floods and moving water?

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Seeking Moderators for StormCon Sessions

For those of you planning on attending the StormCon conference in Bellevue, WA, in August, we’re still looking for moderators for several of the conference sessions. You can find the complete program and other details of the conference at www.StormCon.com. If you’re interested in being a moderator, please contact me (janice@forester.net) or Brigette Burich (bburich@forester.net) for details.SW_bug_web

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