Do You Know What to Do During a Dust Storm?

A massive dust storm rolls into the Phoenix area in 2011. | Daniel Bryant

Massive dust storms, or haboobs, are a regular occurrence in Phoenix and other parts of Central Arizona during the summer monsoon. The Valley of the Sun experienced a good one last week, when a mile-high wall of dust rolled through town.

But do you know what to do if you're on the road and a dust storm hits? Here are a few tips from the Arizona Department of Transportation, which promotes dust storm safety via its "Pull Aside, Stay Alive" campaign.

  • Avoid driving into or through a dust storm.
  • If you encounter a dust storm, immediately check traffic around your vehicle (front, back and to the side) and begin slowing down.
  • Do not wait until poor visibility makes it difficult to safely pull off the roadway — do it as soon as possible. Completely exit the highway if you can.
  • Do not stop in a travel lane or in the emergency lane. Look for a safe place to pull completely off the paved portion of the roadway.
  • Turn off all vehicle lights, including your emergency flashers.
  • Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake.
  • Stay in the vehicle with your seatbelts buckled and wait for the storm to pass.
  • Drivers of high-profile vehicles should be especially aware of changing weather conditions and travel at reduced speeds.

Dust storms can be scary, but they usually pass fairly quickly and you can be on your way again.

For more information, visit ADOT's Pull Aside, Stay Alive page.

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Look Out for Wildlife Along Roads, ADOT warns

Jesse Tara Deacon | Kaibab National Forest

From our friends at the Arizona Department of Transportation:

It’s a traffic call heard too often this time of year inside the control room at the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Traffic Operations Center: “Car versus deer.”

From sunset to sunup, it’s not uncommon for a dozen vehicle strikes with deer, as well as antelope, elk, bear and other animals, to occur during a single evening as wildlife cross rural roadways. In fact, since 2012, more collisions with animals – wildlife, livestock and family pets – happen in June than nearly every other month – October sees the most. Annually, more than 80 percent of animal-related crashes are with wildlife and 86 percent of crashes involving animals occur in rural areas.

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the higher-than-average number of wildlife-related crashes in June is likely related to the beginning of monsoon season, which translates into a “green up” of plants and provides more available water, allowing wildlife to travel greater distances and forage. It also coincides with more motorists traveling to Arizona’s high country, meaning more vehicles on roadways.

In some of the most heavily-traveled migratory corridors, ADOT has implemented creative solutions that promote safe travel, while protecting wildlife and connecting ecosystems.  These projects include wildlife underpasses and elk crossings along State Route 260 east of Payson, desert bighorn sheep overpasses near Hoover Dam on US 93 and two wildlife crossing structures on State Route 77 near Tucson.

Partnering with AZGFD, these efforts have increased vehicle-travel safety, while preserving and protecting wildlife. For example, a fencing project linking three existing crossing structures on SR 260 reduced elk-vehicle collisions by 98 percent over a six-year span.

When traveling in rural areas, drivers are encouraged to pay heed to signs indicating areas where wildlife is prone to cross roadways. Obeying the speed limit and paying attention to the shoulders of roadways will also reduce the chance of crashing into an animal. AZGFD advises:

  • Deer are most active in early mornings and evenings.
  • If you see one animal there are probably more, so slow down.
  • Typically, you should not swerve to avoid hitting the animal. Stay in your lane and firmly brake.
  • However, if it is a very large animal and there is no oncoming traffic and the shoulder is safe on either side of the road, it may be safer to swerve rather than risk the impact from a large animal, like a cow, horse or adult bull elk.

Following crashes with wildlife (81.7 percent), livestock is the next most common at 13.6 percent. Family pets in urban areas make up 1.9 percent of crashes involving animals.

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Litter Can Hinder Freeway Drainage Systems During Monsoon, ADOT Says

Joseph Kolasinski | Phoenix

From our friends at the Arizona Department of Transportation:

As it prepares for monsoon storms, the Arizona Department of Transportation is asking motorists and their passengers not to toss litter along highways. Why? Because the trash can block drainage grates or wind up in the nearly 60 pump stations that ADOT operates along Phoenix-area freeways.

Pump stations are designed to remove large volumes of water from freeways during storms, with individual pumps able to lift more than 12,000 gallons per minute. They are part of a vast and largely unseen drainage system that can keep freeways open during storms that overwhelm local streets nearby.

Pump stations typically have three to five pumps, driven by powerful engines, to lift storm water from inside the facilities and send it into nearby drainage channels or retention basins.

Motorists can help keep ADOT’s drainage systems operating at full capacity by helping to reduce litter and other debris that can obstruct drainage grates and catch basins that collect runoff, leading to standing water along a freeway.

Another way you can help: Report those you see littering on highways to the ADOT Litter Hotline. All that’s required is providing the vehicle’s license plate number and incident details by calling 1.877.3LITTER or visiting kazb.org. The owner will get a letter noting that someone was reported tossing trash from the vehicle, along with a free litter bag.

ADOT works to clear litter and other debris from pump stations and freeway drainage systems all year long. Piles of litter often have to be collected by hand and hauled out of pump station storage wells. Crews or contractors also use specialized vehicles to vacuum drainage pipes that lead to pump stations.

ADOT technicians also work year round to maintain pump stations and their engines, since storms and runoff are not limited to the summer months.

As monsoon season approaches, ADOT keeps an eye on weather forecasts to prepare for challenges associated with runoff. Localized storms that drop more than 2 inches of rain in an hour can tax any drainage system.

When litter and trash are clogging the system, and water starts to build in travel lanes, ADOT maintenance crews are called away from other duties to deal with blockages. That’s another reason to think before you toss that cup or can out a car window.

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Flagstaff Museum Receives National Honor for Hispanic Exhibit

Courtesy of Pioneer Museum (via Facebook)

The Arizona Historical Society's Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff has been honored by a national organization for an exhibit that explores the contributions Hispanic people have made to Northern Arizona's history.

The American Association for State and Local History awarded the AHS an Award of Merit in its annual Leadership in History Awards, the Arizona organization announced in a news release last week. The award was tied to "Todos Unidos: The Hispanic Experience in Flagstaff," a temporary exhibit at the Pioneer Museum.

The Historical Society says the exhibit "recognizes the countless contributions people of Mexican, Spanish and Basque descent have made to Northern Arizona through their labor, their traditions and their community service."

The group will receive the award at the national organization's annual meeting in Kansas City, Missouri, in September.

The Arizona Historical Society was founded by the Territorial Legislature in 1864, making it Arizona's oldest cultural organization. It operates museums and research facilities in Flagstaff, Tempe, Tucson and Yuma.

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Don't Spark a Fire: Check Chains, and Don't Toss Cigarettes

A motorcycle fire caused this brush fire, along Interstate 40 near Seligman, in late April. | Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

From our friends at the Arizona Department of Transportation:

With summer temperatures at hand and the landscape extremely dry across Arizona, dragging chains, tossing cigarette butts or even having underinflated tires can start fires along state highways.

To get ready for fire season, Arizona Department of Transportation crews mow vegetation along highway shoulders in the winter and spring. They remove brush, thin trees and spray fire retardant within the ADOT right-of-way to prevent fires and slow the spread of those that occur.

But motorists have an important role as well, including not tossing burning cigarettes that can tumble or be blown into grass and brush. Here are other ways motorists can help cut down on sparks that lead to fires:

  • Dragging chains during towing can cause sparks. Check and secure tow chains, and never substitute parts when towing.
  • Make sure nothing is hanging beneath your vehicle and dragging on the pavement.
  • Check tire pressure before you travel. Exposed wheel rims can cause sparks.
  • Don’t park in tall grass, as the heat from parts under your vehicle can start a fire.

Besides the obvious danger to lives, property and the landscape, fires can snarl traffic as firefighters work along the highway and also can lead to lengthy closures. On April 25, for example, a rider whose motorcycle caught fire pulled into brush along eastbound Interstate 40 between US 93 and Seligman, igniting a fire that temporarily closed the freeway while firefighters managed to limit it to 6 acres.

“Each of us can do some simple things to cut down on the risk of fires along state highways, starting with checking tire pressure and making sure vehicles and trailers aren’t dragging something that can produce sparks,” said Dallas Hammit, ADOT’s state engineer and deputy director for transportation. “On the road, please use common sense. One burning cigarette flying out a car window can start a wildfire.”

According to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, dragging chains is one of the main causes of fires along highways including Interstate 17 heading into and out of the Phoenix area. On May 9, for example, dragging chains caused five brush fires along 8 miles of US 191 south of Safford. Fast action by firefighters prevented the fires from spreading beyond a tenth of an acre each.

“We continue to get multiple fire starts along Arizona's highways due to unsecured chains,” said Tiffany Davila, public affairs officer for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management. “The drought conditions and dry fuels equate to very high fire danger across the state. One spark is really all it can take to start a fast-moving wildfire.”

ADOT participates in the “One Less Spark One Less Wildfire” campaign the U.S. Forest Service and other land management agencies launched to focus on the role drivers and homeowners play in preventing wildfires.

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Closures in Effect for Arizona National Forests

The Rattlesnake Fire burns in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in late April. | Courtesy of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests

Concerns about forest fires have prompted the closure of parts of four of Arizona's six national forests.

As of Wednesday, May 30, the closures were affecting parts of the Coconino, Tonto, Apache-Sitgreaves and Kaibab national forests. Follow the links below to stay updated on which areas are open to visitors this summer.

For updates on closures in the Coconino National Forest — including the San Francisco Peaks, parts of the Mogollon Rim, and the Flagstaff and Sedona areas — click here.

For the Tonto National Forest — where closures include parts of the Mogollon Rim and the Four Peaks area — click here.

For the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests — which also closed areas of the Mogollon Rim, along with parts of the White Mountains — click here.

For the Kaibab National Forest — which, at time of publishing, had closed only the area of Bill Williams Mountain, near Williams — click here.

If you're visiting any national forest in Arizona, be sure to call the forest ranger district ahead of time to make sure the area you're visiting is open and safe.

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I-17 to Close Overnight for I-40 Bridge Improvements

The San Francisco Peaks tower over Interstate 17 near Flagstaff. | Tom White

From our friends at the Arizona Department of Transportation:

PHOENIX – Interstate 17 will close overnights at the I-17/I-40 interchange in Flagstaff for the next two weeks while crews set up support structures in order to replace the I-40 bridge decks.

Beginning Tuesday, May 29, northbound I-17 will close where the highway passes under Interstate 40. The same section will close nightly from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Saturday, June 2. Traffic heading north on I-17 into Flagstaff must exit on to I-40 east and use the Butler Avenue exit to come around to I-40 westbound and take the Milton Road exit into town.

On Monday, June 4, southbound I-17 will close under I-40 nightly from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Saturday, June 8. Drivers heading south out of Flagstaff must take I-40 west to the Flagstaff Ranch Road exit and come around to I-40 eastbound to take the exit for I-17 south.

The $10 million project includes replacing the I-40 bridge decks in each direction over Beulah Boulevard, immediately west of I-17, as well as the westbound bridge deck over I-17. The eastbound I-40 bridge over I-17 will get a new concrete surface.

The project will also increase the cross slope of the roadway over the renovated bridges, helping to drain water off of the road surface. It also includes guardrail and paving work.

For more information, visit azdot.gov/FlagstaffTI.

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Arizona Ranks Among Most Popular U.S. States for Retirees

Maribeth Brady | Scottsdale

Arizona is a perennial contender on listings of the best states in which to retire, and a recent ranking by the website SmartAsset was no exception.

The website analyzed migration data for people age 60 and older to determine each state's "net migration" — the people 60 and older who moved to the state, minus those who left the state — in 2016. By that metric, Arizona had the second-highest net migration of seniors, at nearly 29,000. Only Florida, with nearly 85,000, had more. North Carolina, South Carolina and Nevada rounded out the top five.

Additionally, five Arizona cities made SmartAsset's 10 most popular cities in which to retire: Scottsdale (third), Mesa (fourth), Gilbert (sixth), Surprise (seventh) and Peoria (10th). Scottsdale, with net migration of 1,834, trailed only Henderson, Nevada, and San Antonio, Texas.

Mesa led the nation in net migration by seniors in last year's study, and Phoenix, Chandler, Peoria and Gilbert were in the top 10 on that list.

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Mormon Temple in Mesa Closes for Two-Year Renovation

The Mesa Arizona Temple is shutting down until 2020 for an extensive renovation. | Richard Webb

One of the Phoenix area's most well-known religious facilities will be closed for renovations for the next two years.

The Mesa Arizona Temple — commonly known as the Mormon Temple — shut its doors Saturday, May 19, Phoenix TV station 12 News and other outlets reported.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says the renovation, which should be complete by 2020, will upgrade the 70,000-square-foot building's air conditioning, plumbing and other building infrastructure. It also will demolish the temple's visitors center to provide a clear view of the temple from Main Street in downtown Mesa. The visitors center will be replaced by a "family discovery center" in a different location on temple property, the church said.

Other changes include restoring the temple and grounds to their original design by reversing changes from the last major renovation, in the 1970s.

The temple, which opened in 1927, is perhaps most widely known for its annual Easter pageant and for its Christmas light displays, which draw hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Those events will be on hold during the renovation, the church said.

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Death at Horseshoe Bend: A Tragic Safety Reminder

Horseshoe Bend is a haven for photographers, but getting the perfect shot shouldn't come at the expense of safety. | Leila Shehab

A Phoenix man visiting an Arizona site familiar to photographers and Arizona Highways readers fell 800 feet to his death last week, authorities said.

The death of 33-year-old Zachary Wallace — who, as the Associated Press reported, fell from the Colorado River overlook the afternoon of Sunday, May 6 — is a tragic reminder of the need to take safety precautions at Horseshoe Bend and other remote Arizona locations.

Until recently, there was no safety railing at Horseshoe Bend, which is near Page and is part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. But in late 2017, the National Park Service announced it was beginning construction of a railing at the overlook; as of April, that project was still ongoing.

The Park Service said the railing will encompass only the area at the end of the trail. It added that visitors could still walk along the canyon's rim in areas without a railing, but that this is "not recommended."

While the circumstances of last week's tragedy are still unclear, there's no doubt that it's remarkably easy to forget about safety when you're in search of that perfect Instagram shot. But keep in mind that Horseshoe Bend has quickly gone from a hidden gem to a highly visited destination: More than 2 million people a year now visit the overlook, according to the Park Service. That means you're likely to be jostling with at least a few other photographers to get that perfect angle.

It's often windy there, too, as it is at many such overlooks. And a strong gust could be enough to knock you off balance and over the edge. So, whether you're at Horseshoe Bend, the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly or some other spectacular Arizona vista, heed the Park Service's recommendation and stay behind the railing, if there is a railing. If there isn't, stay several feet back from the edge.

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