Officials say floods are still very likely even during a drought

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UTAH (ABC4) – The Utah Division of Emergency Management is reminding others that though Utah is experiencing a drought, floods are still very likely.

Currently, 100% of the state is experiencing moderate drought, and 90% of the state is experiencing extreme drought, even Utah Governor Spencer Cox has declared a state of emergency in Utah. So that clearly means flooding probably won’t happen, right? Wrong.

According to the Utah Division of Emergency Management, dry soils absorb water less quickly than wet soils, making flash floods particularly dangerous during droughts.

Last year Utah had a handful of deadly floods. Earlier in May of 2020, two sisters were swept away. Emery County Public Information Officer Janalee Lucke tells ABC4 at the time of the flash flood, the 7 and 3-year-old sisters were hiking with their mother and uncle, and their father was waiting at the trailhead.

St. George Sunday Evening, Courtesy: Michael Guynn

“When he saw the floodwaters come down, he actually retrieved his 7-year-old-daughter and he began trying to resuscitate her. Then he got some assistance and that’s when we first got the call. He then left that area and proceeded downstream to find his 3-year-old,” Luke adds.

The floods also caused a giant sinkhole in St.George.

“After a month without rain St. George saw 1-2” in 90 minutes. Unpredictable weather is becoming more common. Just because Utah is a desert state doesn’t mean flooding doesn’t impact us – 10 out of 15 federally declared disasters in Utah have been for floods,” shares the management team.

When it rains our mountains and canyons become extremely dangerous, especially in Southern Utah. This area of  the state can be the most deadly, the beautiful red rocks harbor the densest population of slot canyons in the world. Over 1000 of them south of Interstate 70.

The slot canyons are found in Zion National ParkCanyonland’s National ParkCapitol Reef National Park, inside the San Rafael Swell,  and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, with a concentration along the Escalante River drainage including Coyote Gulch.

According to the National Weather Service, flash floods occur within a few minutes or hours of excessive rainfall, a dam, or levee failure. Sudden releases of water held back by ice can cause violent runoff too.  

You wouldn’t think the rainfall would have that much power, but as it collects and starts moving over the barren ground it gets stronger and stronger. The NWS says the floods can roll boulders, tear out trees, destroy buildings and bridges, and literally dig themselves a new route. The water rises so fast it can reach heights of 30 feet or more.

The truly terrifying part? You don’t always get a warning the sudden deadly flood is coming.  Most flood deaths are caused by flash floods.

“Know your risk!” warns the Utah Division of Emergency Management.

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