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Pacific Tropical Storms (cont.) | CLIMAS

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Pacific Tropical Storms (cont.)

Pacific Tropical Storms Recap (cont.) - Specific Impacts and Looking Forward

In the Southwest, we are accustomed to the seasonal threat of flooding associated with intense monsoon precipitation, but these storms are generally highly variable spatially and relatively short. Hurricane Odile, as it lumbered into the Southwest, presented a unique threat; it had the potential for widespread flooding over a large area and over a number of days. In a worst case scenario, it could have moved slowly across the Tucson region, and dumped six or more inches of rain across the city and Pima County, not to mention additional flood potential from mountain runoff.  

This scenario posed unique challenges for emergency managers tasked with planning and preparing without sensationalizing or inciting fear in the community. Forecasters faced a related challenge of accurately characterizing a storm for which there was limited data available as it moved over data-poor regions of Mexico, knowing that the results of their forecast would be used to make widespread decisions that could prove costly if wrong. The lack of quality data, combined with apprehension about underestimating the threat of Odile, likely contributed to elevated predictions and certain planning decisions. 

Ultimately, Odile swung south of its predicted path by about 70 miles, leading to substantial rain events and considerable flooding in the southeastern corner of Arizona and across portions of southern New Mexico (Fig. 1). Tucson may have avoided the worst-case scenario in terms of hurricane impacts, but lingering effects may be more costly.  The general public derided many of the forecasts as inaccurate or unreliable, saw sensational coverage from outside media sources, and were subject to considerable disruptions associated with school, road, and government closures despite no actual flooding in town. These circumstances may contribute to a decreased likelihood to act on emergency decrees in the near future.

In the coming months, CLIMAS researchers will work with regional planners and officials to further explore the experience of Odile as it relates to emergency management planning and forecasting.