This year’s monsoon unleashed itself upon the East Valley in spectacular fashion, blowing down power lines, uprooting trees and awing residents with a rare sight: Torrential rain.
Tuesday night’s storm pushed debris onto roads in Gilbert, flooded parks in Chandler, felled trees in Mesa and damaged a university building in Tempe. Yet some residents said they were happy to see a change in weather.
The storm began with a lightning show about 8 p.m. Tuesday and grew fiercer as it progressed into the early morning hours Wednesday. During that time, more than 2 inches of rain fell in some areas of the Valley and wind gusts reached speeds up to 73 mph in southwest Scottsdale, according to the National Weather Service.
In Mesa, commerce screeched to a halt along Southern Avenue and Mesa Drive after the storm downed at least three power poles, closed sections of the road and left traffic signals twisted and broken.
Several retail stores nearby suffered power outages and had to close. Utility workers performed repairs throughout the day. By 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, about 500 residents in Phoenix, Scottsdale, east Mesa and Gilbert were still without power, Salt River Project officials said. They expected power to be completely restored by this morning.
A Big Lots store at Mesa Drive and Southern was closed for most of the morning because of flooding.
Store manager Lucy Mendoza pointed to a hole in the ceiling where a leaky roof caused several panels to collapse, and said the storm kept her busy, even without customers.
“It threw me back a few days,” she said.
Jill Benza, an assistant superintendent at the Mesa Unified School District, said 35 Mesa schools reported some damage, ranging from downed trees to equipment struck by lightning.
The first big storm of this year’s monsoon took some East Valley residents by surprise. Water covered nearly all of Mother Nature’s Farm on Baseline Road in Gilbert.
Caroline Kelsall, one of the farm owners, said much of the water covering her property was from the rain. But not all of it.
“We had irrigation,” she said, barely containing her laughter. Her husband, Wade Kelsall, said they had called SRP a few days ago to order irrigation.
“It was good for the farm,” he said. “In the East Valley, people that are growing are glad to have any water.”
Some areas of Gilbert received nearly 3 inches of rain in under three hours, the heaviest rainfall in the East Valley, according to the Maricopa County Flood Control District.
Capt. Jamie Spada, a Gilbert Fire Department spokesman, said the department received about 35 reports of flooding or downed power lines within a two-hour period late Tuesday night. The most serious call was about debris that had caught fire outside the construction site of Banner Gateway Medical Center at U.S. 60 and Higley Road. The fire was put out with no damage.
In Chandler, a park at the Ashley Park subdivision had about 2 feet of floodwater, creating a swimming hole for neighborhood children during a week that began with record high temperatures.
“It has filled with water before, but it’s never been a solid lake,” resident Mike Adams said as he watched the children play. Dan Couch, a battalion chief with the Chandler Fire Department, said the department received a record 111 calls Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
More than 45 were related to the storm. In Tempe, College Avenue between University Drive and Seventh Street was closed because of storm damage at the ASU Fulton Center. ASU said a microburst knocked down two large glass panels from the building, which hit an oncoming car and caused minor injuries to its passengers. The street was closed to make sure nothing else fell from the building. Fulton Center will remain open.
Surprisingly, nearby Apache Junction received little rainfall and had no damage, said Apache Junction Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Farber. “It sort of missed A.J.,” Farber said. “We lucked out.”
- Tribune writers Beth Lucas, Andrea Falkenhagen, J. Craig Anderson and Brent Ruffner contributed to this report.