It’s that time of year again, when the dark storms start rolling across the sky. Lightning strikes and thunder echoes across the desert floor. It’s majestic and beautiful in a way that only nature can provide. However, spring and summer storms can be dangerous, and a source of powerful energy that can become a deadly force.
Ironically, many people not from the desert or native to Southern Nevada will not think twice about the storms. The fallacy being that Nevada is a desert, it doesn’t rain here, and when it does, it’s never for more than a few minutes at a time.
Although that may be true for most of the occasional showers we see in the Las Vegas Valley, there are always exceptions to the “rule.” Flash flood warnings and cautions are ever more present in the summer months and, with the occasional heavy downpour of rain, here are a few safety tips to remember to keep you safe during the storm.
Driving in the rain increases your likelihood of being involved in an auto wreck or similar event. When it rains, the oil on the asphalt is displaced by the water and actually sits on top of the rainwater on the street. This displacement of the oil and water on the streets is what makes your car or truck slip and slide all over the road when you are forced to make quick stops or when you accelerate through a turn. Remember to take extra cautions while driving in the rain. Slow down an extra 5-10 mph from the posted speed limit.
You should have fully operational wiper blades and headlights. You should turn your headlights on, even during the day, to increase your visibility as a driver as well as making yourself more visible to other drivers and pedestrians.
You should avoid driving through any rising floodwaters. Any body of water that has formed into a puddle, or any flowing water through the streets, can become a potential hazard. Your car can easily be carried away and/or become stuck in the floodwaters. At that time you have endangered yourself and the lives of the firefighters who are coming to rescue you.
Do not be in such a hurry you forget the extra precautions of rainy driving. Slowing down and taking an extra five minutes to go where you are headed could be the difference between life and death.
Avoid the drainage ditches. Here in Boulder City, we have had a number of different incidents with pedestrians getting caught in the drainage ditch as swift water flows through after or during a rainy day. In the past two years, citizens have been rescued by other citizens as they were being swept away by the flowing waters of the drainage ditch.
It is important to remember to stay out of drainage ditches. The waters that are flowing through them are rapid and will carry you away with no problem. You will be tossed and turned and lose all ability to control where you are going. Typically, at the end of all drainage ditches is a collection of boulders and rocks that can and will knock you unconscious and you can potentially drown in the raging waters.
In Boulder City the drainage ditches most profoundly accessible and dangerous are found along Buchanan Avenue to the south, Georgia Avenue to the west, Nevada Highway to the east. Please do not test your luck with these rapid waters, you can and will be carried away in a flash.
Being outside during the thunderstorms presents its own dangers. Summertime is an excellent time to get outdoors and explore the desert with hiking and dirt biking. As the storm clouds start to roll in its important to remember the dangers that are associated with being stranded in the desert as the rain starts to fall.
Lightning is a serious threat. Avoid being out in the open during lightning storms. Lightning is electricity radiating through the sky and it will ground through its nearest conductor. Avoid being under trees or tall posts such as power lines. If you are out in the open when a desert thunderstorm hits, the most appropriate way to avoid lightning would be to lay flat on the ground and allow for the storm to pass.
Be mindful of flash floods in the desert as well. The desert mountains drain their water down to the basin, collecting with other rushing water making its way down hills. Avoid natural wash areas that lead to the lake or river as they are likely spots where water will come rushing through in the event of a rain storm. As the water rushes down it begins to collect dirt and rocks light enough to be swept away. These can be just as dangerous as the water itself. Avoid being swept away by these waters by staying out of natural drainage washes.
Take notice of the weather before you plan any outdoor adventure. As you see clouds rolling in or as you hear thunder in the distance, be mindful of the potential dangers of flash floods. If you take an extra few minutes to find safe alternative ways home to avoid flash floods, you can increase your probability of staying safe through the storm.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at the firehouse at 702-293-9228. Thanks have a wonderful weekend.
Brian Shea is a Boulder City paramedic/firefighter.