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Monday, June 13, 2016

Is there such a thing as a typical monsoon season?

Today’s blog comes from Ken Waters, NationalWeather Service’s Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the Phoenix Office. Ken has been with the NWS for 20 years including stints in Guam, Texas, and Hawaii. 

Previously Ken had a career as a Weather Officer for the U.S. Air Force and served much of his career in the Pacific. Ken has a Masters Degree in Meteorology from Florida State University and a Bachelors Degree in Biology from Whittier College. In his spare time Ken is an avid genetic genealogist as well as software and hardware developer of electronic sensors.
Monsoon Sunset
Photo by: Bryan Snider

Every year I look forward to the part of the year where Arizona gets its most active weather. Of course we know it as the monsoon. That's when the prevailing winds shift substantially, bringing north into the state a large amount of humid air. The increase in moisture is undeniable. We all feel it as soon as we step outside. It can be reflected in a jump in dew point temperatures, often from 40 degrees up to 70 degrees.
Dew points are probably the best way to measure moisture and, when combined with temperature, can yield the relative humidity. Meteorologists regularly monitor dew points; specifically, changes in dew points to measure the moisture surge as it typically moves north from the Mexican state of Sonora into first, southern Arizona, and later into the rest of the state. Typically this moisture surge occurs during the latter part of June for the southern portion of the state, and about the first week of July for the Phoenix area.
The primary impact we see from the monsoon is an increase in thunderstorm activity, particularly over the higher mountainous portions of the state, including the Mogollon Rim, the Mazatzal Mountains, the White Mountains, and the Santa Catalina Mountains. The daily ritual starts with puffy cumulus clouds forming over the highest peaks late in the morning. The afternoon sun warms the atmosphere causing these clouds to build into thunderstorms. If upper atmospheric winds are favorable then these thunderstorms can be pushed down into the lower parts of the desert around late afternoon and early evening.
Radar showing Monsoon
Image by: NWS/NOAA
So, what is a typical monsoon season? Well, in fact, there really is no such thing. If anything the monsoon season is characterized by variation. Variation can be measured day-to-day as the monsoon moisture surge comes and goes, typically in about 3-day cycles where the dew points jump up into the 70s for a few days only to return to drier 50s for a few days. Variation also occurs from year-to-year with some years being dominated by severe dust storms such as 2011, and others with large numbers of severe thunderstorms such as 2008. Lastly, there's the spatial variation. It's commonplace to have some locations get a large amount of rain and flooding from a single storm or set of storms, only to have a location just a few miles away stay dry.
From a statistical standpoint, the National Weather Service measures monsoon seasons using a few fixed points - such as Sky Harbor Phoenix airport. This location has been supplying weather data for over 100 years, so it can show some sense of year-to-year variation. However, the airport often may not be representative of the monsoon season for other areas, such as the Valley or State as a whole.  Even measuring the monsoon season can be tricky as it depends on where you are. We do have some other ways  to measure the season by averaging a number of points such as with the National Weather Service's Phoenix Rainfall Index, or PRI.
Bottom line on the monsoon is it will happen every year, and will occur sometime during the pre-declared
Monsoon flood in Wickenburg
Photo by: Rick Delaney
monsoon season of June 15 to September 30. The best we can do is to prepare for it:
  • Monitor media and government weather information on a daily basis during the season.
  • Don't drive across normally dry washes that have water flowing.
  • Avoid dangerous dust storms while driving; but if caught in one, pull over and turn the lights off.
  • Watch out for, and stay away from downed power lines.
  • Heed cell phone alerts for dust storms and flash floods.
Visit AzEIN.gov for preparedness tips and hazard information.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Include the whole family when building an emergency supplies kit


Two members of my family love to swim, especially this time of year. Given the chance, they would swim every day, for as long as I would let them. They both love to jump into the pool, making big splashes. One of them is my five-year old daughter. The other one is my two-year old dog, Bella.

Bella is a member of our family. We play with her every day. She gets lots of belly rubs. We take Bella on runs at least twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. Bella hikes with us and even goes on vacation with us. She has an abundance of toys to play with, try to tear apart, or hide around the house. We give her lots of toys to play with. We take her to the veterinarian for regular checkups and immunizations. Sometimes we even let her lick the empty peanut butter jar.

As a member of our family, Bella is a part of our emergency preparedness plan. Her veterinarian’s phone number is in our family communication plan. We have also practiced the evacuation plan with Bella. Last time we practiced, I took my daughter out the front of the house and my husband brought Bella from the back and we met across the street at our designated meeting place.

We have an emergency supplies kit for the family that we review every six months or so. The kit has enough food, water, first aid supplies, medication and other items that we may need to sustain us for three days. Bella also has an emergency supplies kit.

Following are some suggestions for your pet’s emergency supplies kit:
  • Food
  • Water
  • Leash and collar
  • Bowl (for food and water)
  • Treats
  • First aid kit
  • Any medications
  • Records (copy of license, immunizations, etc.)
  • Photo of your pet
  • Toys
  • Sanitation bags
  • Veterinarian information
  • List of pet-friendly hotels


June is National Pet Preparedness Month, making it a good time to update your emergency supplies kit to include your household pets.


Hopefully my family will never have to use the items in our kit because of an emergency. But we have it ready to go, just in case. For more preparedness tips and information on Arizona hazards, visit AzEIN.gov.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A bad day in Pima County - it’s all about perception

Today’s blog comes from Sandra Espinoza, the South Region Field Coordinator for the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. Her area of responsibility includes the three international border counties of Yuma, Santa Cruz and Cochise as well as Graham and Greenlee. Ms. Espinoza works to enhance collaboration with primary stakeholders to include local, county, federal and tribal partners. During emergencies and disasters 

Ms. Espinoza operates as the State Liaison Officer facilitating coordinated response and recovery operations.
Ms. Espinoza’s Emergency Management experience spans over a decade in various capacities and jurisdictional levels. She most recently served Interim Emergency Management Administrator for the Tohono O’odham Nation where she was responsible for all administrative and management functions. 

Victims during exercise
Photo by: Pima County

What if I told you there was an Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) that detonated in downtown Tucson?  You’d most likely feel a tug of the heart, a sinking feeling in your stomach and anxiety, followed by an unquenchable desire to know what happened.  Your mind would go reeling.  For first responders it’s no different.  The difference is their unraveled commitment to excellence.  They train day in and day out to be at the ready, regardless of the call.  It’s demonstrated in their physical fitness, physiological maturity, and continued drive to improve. 

On May 4 in Pima County, the tireless efforts of planning to test the elite came to fruition during a full scale exercise.  A full scale exercise simulates a plausible scenario created in an operational environment and is designed to call upon personnel that would normally respond to such an event/incident.  It allows those participating to validate plans and procedures, clarifying roles and responsibilities, measure performance objectives and coordinate with other teams, organizations and jurisdictions. 

From a hazardous materials incident staged in the Town of Sahuarita to a terrorist incident in the Town of Marana, first responders proved to be at the ready.  Multiple jurisdictions, hospitals, educational institutions, businesses, agencies, non-governmental organizations and members of the community joined to test our readiness.  

For some, it was an opportunity to grasp a greater understanding of what first responders do as they simulated responding to an injured victim.   The players put their teams, plans and protocols to the test.  Evaluators at various locations were tasked to observe and document performance.  Controllers managed the exercise play at each site while ensuring the safety of everyone involved.  Needless to say, it was all pulled together with support staff that performed administrative and logistical support tasks during the exercise. 

I had the opportunity of being stationed at the Pima County Emergency Operations Center (PCEOC). The Pima County Emergency Operation Plan describes the PCEOC as “the primary hub for [Pima] County’s incident management, operational coordination and situational awareness in county-wide disasters or emergencies.”
For this simulated activation, I had a “bird’s eye view” of the entire exercise.  Upon arrival at the PCEOC, I checked in with the EOC Manager and made my way to an available work station. The PCEOC is a state-of-the art facility with more than 60 work stations and several breakout rooms.  Staff called upon to support EOC activities are enabled with the tools and resources required for optimal situational awareness. 

I sat at my station mentally reviewing what was happening where, current and possible impacts, where are the shortfalls, and most importantly how can I contribute to the resolve.  Utilizing WebEOC, I was able to monitor events occurring at the various venue locations.  Personnel assigned to an EOC traditionally utilize checklists which serve as a guide and reminder of action items to be taken in support of the event.  In utilizing my checklist, I am always mindful of “checking the box”.  Do what you do meaningfully and be conscious that your actions or in-actions have an impact. 
Town of Marana airport briefing.
Photo by: Town of Marana

After the exercise those involved at the various venues conducted a “hot wash”.  A hot wash is held to review the events of the day, highlight what went well, and discuss what were the areas of opportunity to improve.  This information is then gathered by the Exercise Director and compiled to publish an After Action Report (AAR).  The AAR highlights observations of the exercise and documents recommendations for areas of improvements.   

The simulated “bad day” in Pima County was filled with opportunity to hone skills and continue to strive for a better tomorrow. 


Today is an opportunity for you to look internally and answer the question “Are you Ready”?  Make a plan; get a Kit, stay informed and be ready Arizona.  Someone is counting on you.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Southwest Wildfire Awareness Week is March 27-April 2, 2016

Today’s blog comes from Michelle Fidler, National Park Service Fire Communication and Education Specialist.


March 27 through April 2 is Southwest Wildfire Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “Where We Live, How We Live, Living with Wildfire.”  The focus of the week is to increase awareness and to promote actions that reduce the risk from wildfire to homes and communities.


Preventing Wildfires is Everyone’s Responsibility

As you head outdoors this spring, be sure to keep these fire prevention tips in mind:

·         Before going hiking or camping, check with public land management agencies for fire regulations, restrictions or area closures. Visit http://wildlandfire.az.gov or call the toll-free Southwest Fire Restrictions Hotline at 1-877-864-6985 for more information.

·         Only make campfires in designated areas. Ensure it is fully extinguished before you leave the area. Douse fire with water and dirt, and stir with a shovel until completely cold to the touch. (Watch a video on dousing a campfire.)

·         If using a portable stove, set it up in an area clear of grasses and other fine fuels. Prevent stoves from tipping and starting a fire.

·         Cigarettes should never be thrown out the window of a vehicle. Place cigarette remains in in order to prevent wildfires. 

·         Practice Leave No Trace principles--pack out cigarette butts and burned materials from your camping area.

·         Never park a vehicle over dead grass; the catalytic converter can ignite the vegetation.

·         Always secure tow chains so they don't drag. One spark can cause a wildfire.

For more tips on preventing wildfires, visit http://wildlandfire.az.gov/prevention_news.asp and http://SmokeyBear.com.


Are you Ember Aware?

Here in Arizona, wildfires can happen any time of year. It’s not if, but when the next wildfire will occur. During a wildfire, thousands of embers can rain down on your roof and pelt the side of your home like hail during a storm. Depending on fire intensity, wind speed and the size of materials burning, embers can be carried more than a mile ahead of the fire. If just one of these embers become lodged in something easy to ignite on or near your house, your home will be in jeopardy of burning.

The foothills, grasslands and mountains of Arizona are all fire-prone environments. If you live in these areas, your first defense against wildfire is to create and maintain survivable space around your home. Your roof and the vegetation around your house are key factors in determining whether or not your house will survive a wildfire.

Seven Things You Can Do to Help Protect Your Home from Wildfire

1.     Use fire-resistant construction matrials to deter embers. Replace wood roofs with fire-resistant Class A roofing materials. Plug openings in roof with non-combustible materials. Windows should be multiple-pane, tempered-glass. Cover eaves and vents with 1/8-inch wire mesh. Fill gaps in siding with a good quality caulk. Wooden decks and fences should have a non-combustible section against the house.

2.     Create survivable space around your house. Thin and prune tress within 125 feet of your home. Remove branches that overhang the roof. Ensure tress or clumps of trees are spaced 20 feet apart at the canopy to help prevent flames from traveling through the tree tops.

3.     Use fire-resistant vegetation within 30 feet of structures. Replace wood mulches with non-combustible types and remove dead plant debris next to the house and any wooden fences. Move woodpiles away from the home.

4.     Remove leaves and pine needles from your roof, gutters and deck. Plant debris could easily be ignited by flying embers.

5.     Prune shrubs, cut gass and remove weeds regularly. Remove excess growth as well as dead leaves and branches to decrease their flammability and the threat they could pose during a wildland fire.

6.     Remove “ladder fuel.” Pruce tree limbs so the lowest is 6 to10 feet from the ground. Fire burning through tall, dry grass could ignite lower limbs and climb to the top of the tree with relative ease.

7.     Ensure garden hoses and gas-powered equipment are in good repair. Hoses develop leaks and deteriorate with age and exposure. During fire season, fuel your lawn mower away from dry, flammable grass.




For more tips on preparing for wildfire, visit AzEIN.gov and Firewise.org.

For current fire information, wiildfire preventions and preparenedss tips, and restrictions and closures information throughout the year, visit http://wildlandfire.az.gov and follow @wildlandfireAZ.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Creating an emergency supplies kit on a budget

The holidays have passed us by; it is a new year and many people have set goals for 2016. One goal that’s easy to keep is to update or create an emergency supplies kit. If one of your goals was to save money, don’t worry, making a kit doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

An emergency supplies kit should contain three days worth of supplies for each person in your family, including pets if you have them. Your kit should include water, food, medications, first aid, flashlights, batteries, radio, hygiene items, and other personal items you may need.  

Buy mindfully:
ü  Save money by purchasing water, canned soups, meats, fruits and vegetables in bulk at wholesale stores.
ü   Buy generic items: they cost less than name brands. 
ü  Look for coupons in the paper or online before you go the grocery store. 
ü   Buy batteries, flashlights, tissues and other supplies at the local dollar store.

Other ways to save:

ü  Reuse older items. Store jacket and blankets you don't use anymore in your kit.
ü   Set aside a couple of dollars each week and add to your kit at the end of the month. 
ü  Hang onto the travel-sized items you get on trips (shampoo, toothpaste, soap, etc.) and put them in your kit. 
ü   Request a free road map from your local department of transportation. 
ü   Store copies of important documents in a freezer bag.Freezer bags protect from water and dust and are much cheaper than expensive document protectors. 

Go a couple steps further and be completely prepared for an emergency or disaster:

ü  Write a communications plan identifying a family meeting place, evacuation routes, important phone numbers and an out-of-town contact.
ü   Know the risks in your community (wildfire, flood, etc.) and make sure you are properly insured for any events.
ü  Be a preparedness example for others. Give blood or take a first aid course

For more information on these steps and to learn about Arizona’s potential hazards, visit the Arizona Emergency Information Network (AzEIN) at www.AzEIN.gov.