Surviving a Flash Flood in Zion

Images like these are great and rare, because they show us what Zion looks like after a large rainstorm, or in the springtime with the occasional flooding. 99 out of 100 times, there would be no rushing water down those rocks. Most of us will never see creeks like this springing back to life, because to do so would be to defy mother nature and continue exploring Zion Park despite a major rainstorm.

Zion National Park (15 of 23)

Photo Credit: Graeme Churchard

Despite being part in desert landscape, Zion experiences monsoons from mid-July into September that results in an increased risk of flash floods. Zion, especially the Narrows, is especially susceptible to flash floods because the bare rock can’t absorb the falling rain water fast enough. Flash floods are common and hikers have been stranded, injured, and even killed. This is why it is critical to always be aware of the weather conditions when visiting Zion. You should check the weather forecast, park weather conditions, and can even find out what the park looks like through their park webcam.

The National Park website provides some valuable information for assessing the weather conditions. Most people think that when the weather says there is a 30% chance of rain, that means that there is a 70% chance that the area will not get rain. However that’s not the case. What this actually means is that 30% of the area they are forecasting for WILL be affected by rain.

Even after taking all these precautions, it is still is possible to get caught off-guard. A light drizzle can turn into a torrential downpour, like the hikers in this video experienced.

This showcases how dangerous a flash flood can be. You can see the crazy amount of water that comes cascading down the canyon. The real problems for these guys happened way up the canyon from them, so they had no idea how much water was coming down on the mountains above them. In the end, everything was fine, but have you ever though about what you would do if you were caught in a similar situation? Knowing what to do in these situations can mean the difference between life and death.

One of the best things you can do is be prepared for the worst. Always make sure to pack extra food, water, an emergency blanket, and a first aid kit. Then while on your hike, continuously evaluate the weather conditions and watch for the following signs:

• Any deterioration in weather conditions
• Build up of clouds or sounds of thunder
• Sudden changes in water clarity from clear to muddy
• Floating debris
• Rising water levels or stronger currents
• Increasing roar of water up canyon

Keep in mind that once rain starts to fall, flash flood conditions can develop in seconds! So if you observe any of these signs, start taking inventory of your surroundings and preparing a plan of action. Do not try to outrun the flood unless you are very, very close to the end of of the hike. If water is moving swiftly, as little as 6 inches can know you off your feet. You also may not be able to see if there are any holes or submerged debris that could cause harm, so trying to walk out through the flood can be dangerous, even if the water levels are not yet high. The best thing to do is to find a place where you can climb out of the canyon or at least find a secure place high on the canyon wall to wait out the storm. Even climbing up a few feet may save your life! A good rule of thumb is to go twice as high as what you initially think you need to be safe from the flood.

Be prepared to wait out the storm. The park will shut down hikes during a Flash Flood warning and will remain closed for 2-hours after the warning is lifted, which means you could possibly be spending up to 24 hours waiting it out.  This is why it is is so important to pack extra food, water, emergency blanket, and a first aid kit. And, if it is at all possible, call for help.

Getting caught in a slot canyon during a storm can be extremely dangerous, so if there is any chance of flooding, it is best to avoid slot canyons all together. Trust your gut! If it is telling you to not go, find something else to do instead. There are several injuries and even deaths that occur in Zion from hikers that were not properly prepared for the temperamental weather conditions that the park is famous for.

Don’t let this scare you from visiting. If you take the time to do your research and prepare, your adventure in Zion can go on without any issues and you will have an experience of a lifetime!

Photo Credit: climb-it-ographer on Reddit