Floods: Utah’s deadliest natural disaster

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This image taken in 2012 and provided by the Bureau of Land Management shows a slot canyon at Little Wild Horse Canyon, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City, Utah. A 7-year-old girl has died and her 3-year-old sister is missing after flash flooding sent torrents of water into a narrow canyon in the Utah desert. Authorities said Tuesday, May 12, 2020, that at least 21 others escaped the flooding in Little Wildhorse Canyon. (Matt Blocker/Bureau of Land Management via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Another tragedy, floodwaters rip through Goblin valley killing a 7 year old, and her 3 year old sister. 

RELATED: Coworkers set up GoFundMe page for family who lost young daughters to flash flood

Floods statewide have claimed lives for more than 100 years.  

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.

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Zion Canyon Overlook

The slot canyons are found in Zion National Park, Canyonland’s National Park, Capitol 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.

This image taken in 2012 and provided by the Bureau of Land Management shows a slot canyon at Little Wild Horse Canyon,. (Matt Blocker/Bureau of Land Management via AP)

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 the violent runoff too.  

RELATED: Zion’s Monsoon Season

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.

RELATED: The difference between flash floods and floods

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.

Over the last 100 years Utah has experienced several deadly flooding events. The events happen throughout  the state and we have had more people killed since 1970 as the sport of canyoneering has become more popular. 

Farmington Canyon Flood 1923, Courtesy USU Digital Library

1923: Farmington Canyon flooded killing 4 boy scouts and a honeymooning couple. Attached is a document courtesy of the USU Digital Library and shows Historical pictures of the damage this event created.

Bridge destroyed by Weber River in Lower Morgan Valley 1952 Courtesy USGS

1952: On April 28th record snowpack caused the Ogden and Weber rivers plus others in the state to flood. Two people were killed when the Ogden River slammed their boats together.

1962: A 3 day snowstorm in June, caused Ashley creek and other streams in Manila and Vernal to flood. 7 people died. 

1965: On June 9th a flash flood ripped through the Palisades campground and killed seven campers from Salt Lake City.

Palisades Campground site of 1965 flood

1970: Record rainfall in September caused the San Juan River and it’s tributaries to flood. Two people were killed. According the the USGS 11.4 inches of water came down in 24 hours.

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View of slide area in Thistle, Utah

1983: In April the town of Thistle was completely wiped out and one person was killed, this flooding event started with a landslide that blocked the Spanish Fork River.

RELATED: Wirth Watching, What Happened in Thistle

FILE – In this Sept. 2, 2011 file photo, a tourist take a picture of a beam of sunlight, surrounded by the Navajo Sandstone colors, inside the Upper Antelope Canyon slot canyon in Page, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

1997: In Antelope Canyon which crosses from Utah to Arizona 11 international hikers were killed as they were just finishing a tour of the canyon.  The storm that caused this was 15 miles away on the Utah side, and suddenly the group was covered in 10 feet of water. Only one survived.

Antelope Canyon site of 1997 Flood

2005: In January,  several weeks of heavy storms caused flooding along the Santa Clara and Virgin Rivers.  Killing one person who was trapped in a vehicle near the Quail Creek Reservoir.

2009: In July 2009, a hillside in Logan collapsed, blocking an irrigation canal, the obstruction sent tons of water and debris into a neighborhood below, it destroyed a home and killed 3 people inside.

2015: Utah’s deadliest flash flood killed 20 people. 13 were from Hilldale. A wall of water came out of the canyon, and swept away the cars. The bodies of 12 people were found, and 6-year-old Tyson Black is presumed dead but has never been found.  The same storm caused the death of seven people in Keyhole Canyon in Zion’s National Park 

Location of Hildale and Zion’s Park floods, 20 people lost their lives.

2020: Flash Flood in Goblin Valley causes the death of a 7-year-old and a 3-year old.

Goblin Valley site of latest deadly flood.

Officials urge flood safety wherever you are in Utah. 

A pamphlet is available about floods and what you should know about the dangerous waters living in Utah.

The pamphlet says to remember six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet. 2 Feet of water will float your car. Never swim  or drive through such swift water. If you come upon flood waters, stop! Turn around and go the other way.

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