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  • Writer's pictureGo-Backpacking

Flash Flood Safety

Nine people were recently killed in a flash flood in central Arizona. The victims were swept away by a sudden wall of water while having fun at a swimming hole in the Tonto National Forest near Payson, AZ.

To all of us backpackers out there, this is a somber reminder of the serious risks posed by flash flooding in the backcountry. You must be aware of this risk - and how to avoid it - when backpacking.

Most of the US National Parks are very vocal about flash flood risks. You will see signs and be reminded by park rangers to stay away from high risk areas, especially during rainy seasons. But there will not always be warnings. Your safety is your responsibility.

Be very aware of the risk of flash floods when planning your trip, and make sure all members of your group are aware as well.

Below are some tips to help keep you safe from flash floods on your next backpacking trip:

  • Always check the weather before you leave

  • Watch for any rain, but especially a downpour, that could cause water levels to rise

  • Be aware of Spring snowmelt, which could cause flooding in certain areas

  • Keep in mind that even a storm that is several miles away could cause a flash flood in your area, especially if you are around canyons or hills

  • Never make camp in low areas or directly next to a stream

  • Do not walk or drive through flooded areas on roads

  • Be especially careful when crossing streams or hiking through canyons. Do not cross if the waters appear to be flooded. If in doubt, do not cross.

  • Consider packing a NOAA weather radio for trips in areas that are prone to flash flooding. Check the radio forecast periodically for updates.

  • If you see or hear the sound of rushing water, get to higher ground immediately. Do not attempt to outrun the waters.

  • Always speak with local rangers or park officials before embarking on a backpacking trip.

Just like anything else in backpacking, preparation is the key to reducing these risks. The tragedy in Arizona is a somber reminder to all of us that that nature is as dangerous as it is beautiful. Plan ahead, be smart, and as always, have fun.


US Department of Homeland Security

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