The Storm before the Storm

Flood following creek west“A cloud is coming—fill the bathtub!”

When we moved to the country, our lifestyle changed. On September 5, a rainstorm approached my home near Buckeye, Arizona. When my husband, Jimmy, saw the cloud, he filled the bathtub. This was a routine monsoon-related activity that my friends in the city didn’t understand. Ancient wooden poles support many of the utility lines in our rural area. Some of them lean to the side . . . considerably. When the wind blows or the rain soaks into the lines, our home goes without certain services.

I’m not complaining. Truthfully, when we moved here twenty years ago, we accepted this as just part of the experience. What I didn’t know at the time was that when the electricity went out, our water service also suffered.

Did the small local company need electricity to maintain pressure in the lines?

This meant that during a power outage, our house lost water as well.

On September 5, our home had no electricity, water, or communications. Because it was dark, I broke out my often-used emergency kit which included a flashlight and candles.

Of course, as soon as the lights went out, I had to pee—really bad . . . in the dark with a candle . . . and then flush by filling a bucket from the bathtub and pouring it into the back of the toilet tank.

My landline did not function along with the internet connection. I needed to call the phone company to report the problem, but my cell phone had no coverage out here in the ‘sticks.’ Sometimes access improved when I made a call outdoors, where the walls of my house did not obstruct the signal. So I stepped out on the front porch and sat on a wet bench in the rain to call the phone company. I was disconnected three times. Finally, I managed to create a repair ticket.

Back in the house, there was nothing to do . . . too dark to read. I wanted to go to bed. Unfortunately, the refrigeration didn’t work because it had no electricity. The high temperature that day was 101 degrees with 58 % humidity.

How could I sleep in the heat?

I put a cotton sheet on the floor near the open door. It took a while, but a restless slumber soon found me. Almost four hours later, the electricity brought the house into instant brightness. But the phone and internet lines still didn’t work. In fact, the communication lines would be out for almost a week.

This particular downpour was so small, that it did not register at the nearby Phoenix weather station. No rain . . . zero . . . zip.

Flood looking eastThree days later on September 8, Phoenix recorded 3.29 inches of rain, which was a history-breaking record for that day. It also constituted nearly one-half of our average annual precipitation.

It happened during the day, and I was awestricken. Near our home, the storm dropped all of its load within a one-hour period. Then it quit.

Jimmy and I rushed outside to take pictures as soon as the drops stopped falling.

I might never in my life see this much rain dropped in so short a time.

A bed of gravel on a naturally elevated section of land protected our home from flooding (thank goodness). When water fell off the rear half of the roof, the contours of the land directed the flow away from the house toward a creek bed.

I kicked off my shoes and rolled up the legs of my jeans. (No doubt a bad and dangerous idea.) Sandy mud squished between my toes. My feet headed straight for the closest creek. One foot stepped cautiously into the rushing stream. The force of the flow pushed on the backs of my legs and splashed up onto my rolled-up pants hem.

Awestruck, I strolled up and down the muddy stream. My toes explored the sandy bed. A running waterway displaced, or undercut, large quantities of mud in a strong current. This action usually remained invisible, because the sediment re-deposited as the flow slowed down.

The course of the gushing stream followed a western route until it met with another creek of the same size. As the two channels joined together, the water slowed down and formed a broad pool. At its terminal end, the muddy liquid spilled into another waterway, larger than the first. When it left my property, the water bubbled a soft ‘goodbye’ and headed for the Gila River.

I wished my telephone and internet worked so I could tell someone about this!

Ruts in my drivewayForty-five minutes later, the creek beds were devoid of standing water. In the front yard, runoff from my property combined with that from the asphalt road to create a rushing canal along the gravel embankment. Strong currents scoured out deep cuts.

Now it takes a four-wheel-drive vehicle to traverse the ruts at the end of my driveway.

As Jimmy and I make future plans about implementing rainwater harvesting strategies on our property, the lessons I learned walking down the creek will be helpful . . .

Catch the rain in gutters on the roof and slow it down in the creeks. Make plans for how to handle an average amount of rain, and what to do when you get more than expected.

Jimmy and I were fortunate because we watched this natural phenomenon unfold in safety. Our home could have flooded, but it didn’t. Many people did lose their homes during time. Please help victims by donating to the American Red Cross (https://www.redcross.org/donate/).

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