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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 08/20/2008

Flood Stories

By Capital Weather Gang

Wx and the City

By Ann Posegate

While there is no flooding in sight for the Washington area (and slim chance for much-needed rain in the forecast for that matter), I still can't help but have flooding on my mind. Quite a few notable floods have occurred in the U.S. this summer, including those on the Mississippi River, and in Texas, Florida and Arizona.

Although the latter occurred in Havasu Canyon near Grand Canyon National Park, news of this flash flood in particular hit home for me. As an Arizona native with the beautiful Havasu Canyon as one of my childhood stomping grounds, I was caught in a smaller flash flood there one July during the mid-1990s. That flood raised the creek about two feet, sending anywhere from six to 24 inches of muddy water streaming over the canyon floor -- and sending my family and I scrambling to a ledge 30 feet up the canyon wall, where we waited for four hours until the water began to retreat.

Keep reading for the rest of Ann's flood story. And see our full forecast through the weekend.

The weather was flawless that day with no cloud in sight. So we had been surprised (with warning and good fortune) when a Havasupai local ran over to our campsite and frantically told us that we had 20 to 30 minutes to get to high ground because he had received a message on his radio that a flash flood was approaching. Apparently, there had been heavy rains further up the canyon that morning.

Forty-five minutes later, while watching the creek from the ledge above, we heard a loud rumble (similar to that of an airplane overhead) and a fierce wall of brown muddy water overran the quiet turquoise creek below. The water continued to rise, inches at a time, first covering a small island, then riparian shrubs, then a small boulder, then a picnic table bench...I can't stress enough how lucky I felt to be watching this from above instead of hiking down a narrower canyon further downstream.

Once we realized that no Havasupai villagers upstream or hikers and campers along the creek had been injured, the flood turned out to be a pretty amazing sight to witness. While I surveyed the damage later that day, the nearby 150-foot Havasu Falls were much stronger and dark brown with mud.

During the August 17, 2008 flood, one rescued camper observed a similar but more intense phenomenon, and another watched a new waterfall form. The flood that occurred this past Sunday sent an eight-foot wall of water through the canyon. Unfortunately, villagers and visitors did not have the same warning that I had, but many were still able to get to higher ground and watch the flood from above while awaiting rescue.

Thankfully, we don't have a monsoon season and narrow, sandy canyons in the Washington metro area. Though, there have been several notable flash floods affecting D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, including those as recent as 2001 and 2003.

With D.C. being located in the Potomac River's floodplain and within reach of tropical storms and hurricanes, there must be some interesting water-logged stories floating around this region! What are your flood stories?

By Capital Weather Gang  | August 20, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Floods, Posegate, Wx and the City  
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Comments

Currently 76F, 30.24, rising, then steady. Partly cloudy, Ci, Cc, Ac undulatus, As and some Sc advecting from W to E. Some of the cloudiness looks a lot like an "autumnal" pattern.

As I indicated earlier, we might finally see some moisture from Fay as it advects into the next frontal system next week.

Posted by: El Bombo | August 20, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I was driving cross-country from NY to CA. (It's a driving experience that I recommend to all. You don't realize how grand, how magnificent our country is until you drive it "From Sea To Shining Sea".)

Anyway, in Nevada, somewhere along US Interstate 15, in the distance to the right I saw a big thunderstorm above some mountain range. Overhead it was darkly overcast, but dry.

I was following a police car. (He didn't speed, and, of course, I didn't pass him.) All of a sudden we stopped. A fast moving stream was crossing the highway. Indeed, some boulders were on the highway.

The police car did a U-turn and I followed. Backtracking, we discovered a second stream was crossing the highway. We were trapped, but I didn't feel in any particular danger, since Nevada's Finest was in front of me.

I was impressed with how a thunderstorm in the distance could result in a sudden flash flood miles from the storm along what had been a bone dry river bed.

"High ground" acquired a special meaning for me.

Posted by: Leo Chen | August 20, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the story, Leo. I had to do a "turn around don't drown" in early June 2006 when historic rains caused flood waters from a creek to overspread the intersection of Mass Ave and Little Falls Rd. in Bethesda. Several cars got trapped in those waters.

Posted by: Jason, Capital Weather Road | August 20, 2008 3:59 PM | Report abuse

From 5th grade to about 20 , I used to go to Supai every summer. The first time was in 1992, before the big flood of 1993 that also involved a dam break.

That was before the pools below Havasu falls were wiped out and when Mooney falls was wider and had a more beautiful and articulate arrangement of chutes. It was also before all the vegetation was ripped out and most of the travertine pools downstream were broken.

The thing that I found amazing was that each year I went after, I noticed significant growth in the vegetation. The waterfalls looked a little different and a man-made dam was built below Havasu falls to revive the pool below -which later became covered in natural sediment to the point where it no longer looked man-made. The pool below Mooney falls was filled in with silt to the point where you could nearly walk up to the falls -but grew deeper every year as the sediment built new travertine dams in the bed of silt.

I haven't been there in 8 years, but based on the pictures and videos I have seen online it had continued to grow, almost to the point in which I had first seen it in 1992... I really wanted to go back and see the place revitalized, 15 years after the flood. It breaks my heart because now it starts all over again...

I once saw Mooney falls in a flash flood... I was a dumb kid sitting on the island at the end of the pool below just watching it grow. My dad found me and yelled at me from the cliffs above (200 feet)... Oddly enough I heard him -even in the fury of the flood and climbed out of there. Luckily also -the river is broad below the falls -so it wasn't too deep for me to cross over to the climbing area.

The good thing is that the place has a way of revitalizing itself. In one decade it can look like a completely different place.

Posted by: Rick | August 21, 2008 12:11 AM | Report abuse

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