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Weekend storms belie Tucson's ho-hum monsoon season

The monsoon has been mostly ho-hum so far across much of Tucson, but July ended with a torrent of floodwater in one Foothills neighborhood.

Rural Metro Firefighters evacuated 10 people from an assisted living facility near Swan Road and Skyline Drive on Sunday night, after the residence filled with several feet of water from the raging Finger Rock Wash.

No injuries were reported at Catalina Foothills Adult Care on Havasu Road, but it took about three hours to carefully evacuate the residents, some of whom had special medical needs.

Workers from Pima County Wastewater Reclamation clear sand and rocks from a manhole on Havasu Road east of Columbus Boulevard in the Catalina Foothills on Monday after a raging Finger Rock Wash swamped a handful of homes on Sunday night.

“It took a little time, but we got everybody out safely,” said Rural Metro Assistant Chief Jay Karlik.

Several local hospitals took in the evacuees for the night, Karlik said.

It’s unclear when the care home will be able to reopen. A message left at the facility Monday was not immediately returned.

The house was one of several that were damaged along Finger Rock Wash, where about 2½ inches of rain fell between 6 and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Dried mud covers the wheels of a wheelchair in front of an assisted-living home along Havasu Road east of Columbus Boulevard inside Coronado Foothills Estates. Rural Metro firefighters evacuated the residents after Finger Rock Wash swamped a handful of homes on Havasu Road on Sunday night.

The resulting flood washed down streets and into people’s yards in the Coronado Foothills Estates neighborhood at the base of the Catalinas.

Heavy rain also fell at several east-side locations and near the Kino Sports Complex on Sunday, but less than three-tenths of an inch was recorded at the National Weather Service’s official gauge at Tucson International Airport.

Through July 31, just 1.31 inches had fallen at the airport since the start of the rainy season on June 15. That’s about an inch less than normal, but it doesn’t reflect the wet conditions that have been seen in places like the Foothills and Oro Valley.

“It’s been highly variable through town,” said meteorologist Glenn Lader with the National Weather Service in Tucson. “In typical monsoon fashion, it’s been very hit and miss.”

One of the Pima County Flood Control District’s rain gauges on the Cañada del Oro Wash near Oracle Road has logged more than 6 inches of rain in the past 30 days.

The forecast for the first week of August calls for isolated storms early on, with increasing chances of rain starting Wednesday as the “monsoonal flow picks back up,” Lader said.

By this time last year, more than 8 inches of rain had fallen at the airport, nearly all of it during a soggy July that ranked as the wettest month ever recorded in Tucson.

By this time in 2020, the official monsoon total stood at less than half an inch of rain as the community suffered through its driest year on record.

Lader said what happens in the next month will go a long way to deciding where this year ranks. Typically, July and August are the two wettest months of the year in Tucson. The monsoon season runs through September.

Residents watch as workers clear rocks, dirt and mud off Havasu Road east of Columbus Blvd. inside Coronado Foothills Estates on Aug. 1, 2022. A monsoon storm filled Finger Rock Wash, which overflowed onto streets and houses on Sunday night.

Havasu Road remained closed in several places Monday, as work crews from Pima County, Southwest Gas and several private contract companies cleared debris and made repairs along the street.

At the height of Sunday’s downpour, the flood district’s gauge on Finger Rock Wash showed a flow of more than 186 cubic feet per second, which is enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than 7 minutes.

The wash had all but stopped running by early Monday afternoon, but trees just upstream from the culvert that carries the water beneath Skyline near Columbus Boulevard were stained with a muddy high-water mark about six feet off the ground.

People who have lived in the area for decades say they have never seen such intense flooding on Finger Rock Wash, which crosses several streets and winds behind dozens of homes in the neighborhood.

One likely culprit is the 2020 Bighorn Fire, which burned the vegetation above the wash that used to absorb water and curb erosion.

The county sent automated flood alerts to residents of the area as the rain fell and flows in the wash increased Sunday evening.

Jim Darling is president of the homeowners association in Coronado Foothills Estates. He said Sunday’s storm flooded many of the same areas that were hit by flash floods last year, including one that badly damaged the intersection of Havasu Road and Columbus Boulevard.

The county ended up rebuilding and reinforcing the road there over several weeks last year, but water still flowed out of the wash and down Havasu on Sunday, inundating several yards and homes.

County engineers might have to revisit their design a second time.

“They were very responsive the last time it happened, and we’re looking forward to working with them again,” Darling said. “They’re fighting Mother Nature, and it’s not easy.”

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@tucson.com or 573-4283. On Twitter: @RefriedBrean


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