Flagstaff weather brings flames and floods

The extreme weather conditions that have occurred in Flagstaff are bringing dramatic consequences and, in some instances, life-threatening situations. It is no surprise northern Arizona had many incidents of monsoons, fires and floods during the summer months. These events can bring the community together as citizens try to help themselves and others through the storms to come.

Climate change can be caused by several factors such as deforestation, fossil fuels and livestock farming. Around Coconino County in particular, the Flagstaff Vulnerability Assessment stated a longer warm season and intense wildfires could potentially increase the risk of diseases and respiratory health problems.

Junior Connor Farrell experienced the flooding when his arrangement to meet friends did not go according to schedule. Farrell said he was supposed to hang out with someone, but their plans took a turn when they both ended up shoveling a foot of mud out of the driveway first. 

He also said he helped his family with sandbags to prevent more water damage, because they cannot risk it happening again. The flood ruined the floors, carpets and stairs, Farrell explained, which resulted in replacing everything. 

“The flood came away and swept the cars,” Farrell said. “The walls were covered in mold and it was all over the house. It took a lot of time to sort it all out because mold went under stairs and in the walls. They had a few sandbags, but they had no idea it would completely flood the house.”

In this instance, insurance couldn’t cover the damages. 

For a while, Farrell said the family covered costs out of pocket, and prioritized damages caused by water, mold and corroding infrastructure. 

When discussing memorable weather events, former Flagstaff resident Ilana Landes brought up the 2010 winter storm. It was so intense that snow accumulations reached six feet in 24 hours, she said. 

“The storm even made the roof of [a nearby store] break down,” Landes said. “I have moved to [Scottsdale] and now I don’t have to shovel through the snow!”

Unlike locals, NAU students from around the world may be completely unaware of the intense floods and fires. Having never experienced weather like this before, junior foreign exchange student Chloe Farrer offered a different perspective. 

“I was feeling very anxious about the weather as England doesn’t experience dramatic weather, so turning to your phone and seeing alerts and life-threatening messages is quite daunting,” Farrer said. “When I was visiting downtown Flagstaff I saw sign levels regarding fire [risk], which was alarming. I’m also worried about the winter, as I’ve heard that the weather can be up to 2.5 meters. It’s just nothing I am used to.” 

Stefan Sommer is a member of the Board of Directors for Northern Arizona Climate Change Alliance. He explained climate change intensified weather conditions experienced by Flagstaff residents this summer, and also discussed overall trends. The more energy humans trap and use, the more climate change will cause extreme weather. He said this concept is difficult for individuals to understand if they don’t have a scientific background, and nowadays there is a lot of online interpretation about climate change, which is often misleading or inaccurate.

Sommer mentioned a study he read — conducted in 2019 — that assessed 100- to 500-year rainfalls. Having experienced this summer’s monsoons himself, those levels were reached multiple times within a few weeks. 

“My basement completely flooded from the water, and suddenly there was a lake between mine and my neighbor’s house,” Sommer said. “When I went to the backdoor there was a river. I’ve lived here since 2003 and never experienced anything like that.”

 The National Weather Service (NWS) keeps individuals informed and educated about what to expect. NWS also posts flood advisory and flash food warnings to keep individuals in the community prepared. 

Meteorologist Brian Klimowksi reiterated that Flagstaff experienced high amounts of flooding this year, which led to several feet of water in neighborhoods.

“You should always be aware of the surroundings and threats around you,” Klimowksi said. “[Also] be aware of locations that are most vulnerable to flooding and, of course, follow city guidelines protecting companies when and where possible.”

At times like these, it is important to remain alert and be safe. Residents of Flagstaff should keep themselves updated, so a fun night out does not turn into dealing with disaster.

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