Most years, June and the early portion of July is bone-dry in Zion as temperatures creep from the 80s, to the 90s, and up into the 100s. Right around mid-July, however, the thunderstorm engines on the West Coast rev up and we see big, black, cumulus rollers come through almost every afternoon. This is “monsoon season” in Zion, a far cry from the namesake torrents of SE Asia, but still a major force to reckon with, especially if you are in a canyon environment.
Desert News and KCSG television recently reported the story of three Las Vegas men who were caught in a flash flood in Spry Canyon last Saturday, June 24th. Evidently, all three of the men were washed over a 40-ft. drop, and two of the three washed over and additional 60-ft. drop. Fortunately, one of the guys was able to signal for help, and though details of injuries are unclear, it sounds like everyone was transported alive to the hospital to Las Vegas.
Over the years, we’ve met very few people who were actually caught in the water/debris flow of a flash flood and lived to tell about it. The above stories provide sketches of the events, but the finer details would be more educative… When did these gentlemen first see signs of approaching rain? Where were they when the rain started, and what did they do? Did the group make a plan? Spry is often referred to as a canyon of “moderate” flood risk, as it drains a relatively small area and offers many opportunities for escape to high ground. As these guys found out, however, flash flooding affects a specific area as a specific time; if you are in a bad spot when the flood hits, you often have very few options.
As the KCSG story notes, the chance of rain Saturday as 30%. Unfortunately, the precipitation forecast has little to do with actual rain during monsoon season, since the canyon terrain creates much of its own weather. Often, one canyon or drainage can receive torrential downpours, while the next canyon over gets no rain at all. So whether the forecasts says 10%, 30%, or 80%, you never really know what will manifest over the Park.
At Zion Adventure Company, we share many stories of tragedy and near-tragedy with our clients. Not only do these stories provide ample fodder for learning and accident prevention, they help remind us that our wilderness “playground” holds many very real, lethal dangers. When planning a canyon trip in Zion, regardless of the season, please know the weather forecast and make conservative decisions accordingly; your family and friends will appreciate your care in ensuring you return from adventures safe and sound.