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Pacific storm blast pushes rain into Arizona

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Gayle Peterson stacks sandbags to protect her home, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014 in Mesa, Ariz. Phoenix area residents are filling sandbags in anticipation of the remnants of Category 3 Hurricane Odille which decimated Mexico's Baja California. Odille's remnants are expected to hit Arizona in the coming days. Phoenix residents are already on high alert after getting slammed with another Pacific storm last week that turned the city's main freeways and communities into lakes. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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PHOENIX >> The remnants of Tropical Storm Odile moved into Arizona on Wednesday and threatened to swamp some areas with 5 inches of rain in the second blast of hurricane-related weather to hit the desert region in the last two weeks.

Rain was falling across much of the state on Wednesday morning. In southern Arizona, a third of an inch to 2 inches fell overnight and some normally dry washes had flows, National Weather Service meteorologist Lee Carlaw in Tucson said.

Storm activity is expected to pick up during the day, and the forecast called for Tucson to get slammed with up to 5 inches, while Phoenix was expected to get soaked but with lesser amounts.

Residents around the state flocked to fire stations and other locations to get sandbags to place them around their homes as protection against floodwaters. Many experienced flooding last week after the remnants of Hurricane Norbert swamped parts of Phoenix and Tucson.

"It flooded my whole property, my horse pens, and my garage was under about 2 feet of water," said Roger Fuller, 72, who spent Tuesday morning loading up about 60 sandbags in Phoenix. "This time around, we’re trying to keep the water off the property. Hopefully, it will work."

At the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Traffic Operations Center, agency spokesman Doug Nintzel and other workers looked over a bank of monitors that showed traffic statewide and the track of the storm as it moved from Mexico into the U.S.

"It is unusual for us," he said. "We would be expecting to start getting into the drier fall season here in the area, so you never know with Mother Nature, and we’ve just said all hands on deck. You need to prepare for this type of thing, and we’re doing the best we can trying to keep our system as operational as possible."

Weather and climate experts said it’s rare to have back-to-back weather events like this in Arizona, and they attributed it to an especially active hurricane season in the Pacific.

The Eastern Pacific hurricane season is 50 percent more active than usual, while the Atlantic is 50 percent less active. The result has been fierce storms striking Mexico in recent weeks, while the Atlantic had its first major hurricane — Edouard — form just this week.

Last week, the remnants of Hurricane Norbert caused deadly flash flooding in Arizona. The single-day rainfall totals in Phoenix eclipsed the average total precipitation for the entire summer. Freeways became submerged after pumping stations could not keep up with the downpour, and sections of Interstates 10 and 17 were closed most of the day.

Despite the heavy rains, it still might not be enough to pull Arizona out of its drought.

Rain alone will not help refill reservoirs on the Colorado River. The current drought is drawing down Colorado River storage — in Lake Mead and Lake Powell in particular — to dangerous levels, said Jonathan Overpeck of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona. The snowmelt from snowpack is what fills reservoirs that supply drinking water. So the upcoming winter, not hurricane season, is a crucial weather period.

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