Do not enter when floodedby Hugh Holub on Jun. 17, 2010, under tucson life and heritage
Though the monsoon “officially” started on June 15th, the real monsoon is coming soon. That’s when we get slammed with heavy winds, thousands of lightning strikes and drenching rains.
Newcomers to Tucson have no idea what is about to transpire.
One of the things you notice around the area are the “do not enter when flooded” signs. They seem like a joke in the desert…sort of right up there with “no fishing from bridge” signs on the Santa Cruz.
The ”do not enter when flooded” sign is deadly serious.
Every year we have motorists who ignore the “do not enter when flooded” warnings, and drive into a flooded arroyo. Some of them end up dead.
A little background, which will also help you understand Arizona mentality.
Because it only rains 10 or 12 inches a year around here, local governments didn’t want to waste the money putting storm drains under streets and building expensive bridges or culverts over areas that only have running water in them a few hours at a time a few days a year.
Instead, streets were designed for a dual purpose…carrying cars, and draining off storm water to the nearest wash or arroyo or river.
Alvernon north of Speedway, old timers remember, carried up to 2,000 cubic feet per second of water during a storm. If you got caught in a storm on Alvernon, your car could be washed from Speedway to Grant in a few minutes.
All the storm water that falls on the valley floor is hurried to the arroyos, which suddenly fill with water. During a summer thunderstorm which is dropping 2 inches of rain on all those rooftops and parking lots and streets in a few minutes means an awesome amount of water will end up in the nearest arroyo really fast. It is not uncommon to see a three foot wall of water roaring down arroyos in Tucson.
Here’s the deal…it doesn’t take much water flowing over a road to sweep your car away. Water is a powerful force of nature.
Now, as noted, local governments did not spend the money to create “all weather” access in the area, so there are lots of places where water runs over the road during a storm. Dips. Washes…whatever.
There was a big lawsuit over the death of a motorist who ignored a “do not enter when flooded” sign and was swept away to his death.
The survivors of the drowned guy sued saying the warning sign wasn’t sufficient.
The city involved won, on the legal theory called “assumption of risk” meaning you can read, you ignored the sign, and if you die as a consequence, tough luck.
The state went even farther, passing what is called the “stupid motorist act”. This law provides that if you ignore a “do not enter when flooded” sign, and the local police and fire departments have to rescue you, they can (and will) bill you for the cost of that rescue. Fire trucks and ladders and helicopters and all the other emergency response equipment and people it takes to save a stupid motorist are not cheap.
Besides the “do not enter when flooded” signs, it is also common to see barricades at water crossings. Again, remember it is cheaper to run out and put up barricades in front of a place where water is running across a street than to build a culvert. The barricades means the same thing as “do not enter when flooded”. So driving around the barricades is the same “assumption of risk” with the same consequences.
So when you come up to a “do not enter when flooded” sign and there’s water running, remember two things….if you drive into the water and are swept away and killed, tough luck. If you survive being washed away and are rescued, you will get a bill for thousands of dollars for the rescue effort.
And another thing to remember…the water running over the dip may look like it is only a couple of inches deep and your SUV seems like it could make it across. Wrong thinking. Frequently the storm water erodes the pavement away, so what you think is only a few inches of water is actually a few feet of water. There is no road left under the water.
You have a choice when you come up to a flood wash…wait a few minutes because as fast as the water will fill the wash, it will pass through on its way to Marana. Better to be a few minutes late than dead.