Lightning strikes during Monday night’s torrential downpour started a fire at one home and knocked an alarm system off at another, while the downpour that dumped three inches in a matter of hours in some places flooded stream crossings.
The downpour peaked on Monday night, with scattered rain gauges reporting as much as three inches — which delivered more in one storm than Payson got between January and July.
The monsoon system eased as the week wore on, but the U.S. Weather Service says moist air from the Gulf of California will move back in this weekend, along with a 30-40 percent chance of more thundershowers.
The rain did soak the dry brush and downed wood across millions of acres, prompting the Tonto National Forest to remove the last of its additional fire restrictions. About a week ago, rangers opened up areas closed to all entry north of the Control Road and in Fossil Creek.
The violent storm came almost two years to the day after a lightning strike destroyed a Chaparral Pines home. This time, the lightning bolts touched down right next to the two homes, without causing major damage.
Around 10:45 p.m. Monday, one bolt struck so close to a two-story home that the homeowners were sure they had been hit. Neighbors said they heard a large crack and the homeowners, who were sitting in their living room, say the whole backside of the house lit up. A search of the structure revealed no immediate signs of the impact. However, at 6:45 a.m. the homeowner called for help after seeing light gray smoke coming from the attic.
“Lightning is an amazing thing,” said Payson Fire Battalion Chief Dan Bramble. “When it strikes a home you usually see burning wood or holes in house. This time, you didn’t have any exterior damage.”
Rim Country gets more lightning than almost any other area of the country, thanks to the topography of the Mogollon Rim, which forces warm, moist air to rise until it chills and drops its moisture. Lightning bolts usually last for an eye blink, as excess lightning built up in one area of a cloud of tumbling rain and ice crystals jumps to another area of the cloud — or to the ground. A lightning bolt can ionize and heat the surrounding air to a temperature of 54,000 degrees, creating a shock wave of thunder audible for 10 miles. Fortunately, they last for about 30-90 microseconds, which means the energy flashes past so fast that the majority of people actually hit by lightning survive.
And so did the Payson house that suffered a near miss on Monday. Bramble said the insulation over one room in the home had likely smoldered for hours.
It took firefighters some time to find the fire after they pulled down sheetrock, Bramble said. Luckily, damage was minimal and the home is still inhabitable.
Around the same time, lightning stuck near a home in Chaparral Pines, he said.
An alarm company called the fire department after lightning caused the system to malfunction. No one was home at the time and the home was undamaged.
The heavy rain caused localized street flooding. It also caused the East Verde River to rise so much that the sheriff’s department closed several crossings between Beaver Valley and Whispering Pines.
Despite the heavy but scattered rain, the region remains gripped by a drought, with about two-thirds of the normal rainfall for the year so far. The U.S. Weather Service forecasters say a strong monsoon pattern has become established. This should produce above-average rainfall for the monsoon season, which will end in August or September.
Other forecasts call for above-normal winter rain, based on the development of El Niño conditions in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
The storms didn’t deliver much moisture to portions of Arizona locked in “extreme” drought.
Although water rushed down the East Verde and Tonto Creek, the flood flows dropped quickly. By Thursday, Tonto Creek had once more dried up before it could reach Roosevelt Lake, which remained only half full. The flow of the Verde River at Tangle stood at 152 cubic feet per second, a little more than half its normal flow. The total flow of the Salt and Verde rivers into the reservoirs was just below normal — 384 cubic feet per second.
Most of Arizona remained covered by a “hazardous weather outlook” through the weekend. The recent burns pose a danger of debris flows and flooding. For instance, last week the burn area near Crown King got between 4 and 9 inches a day several days in a row, causing flooding that once again cut off the small, rural community.