Water flows in Oak Creek in Sedona after heavy rainfall with extended flood warnings
Water flows in Oak Creek in Sedona March 16, 2023, after heavy rainfall and flood warnings extended to Oak Creek at Cornville through 8 p.m. Thursday.
Joel Angel Juarez, Arizona Republic
Residents and tourists in northern Arizona tried to return to business as usual after evacuation orders triggered by rain and flooding were lifted Thursday morning.
But for some like Tatum Loll, 17, of Cottonwood, that was impossible.
The teenager, who is on spring break this week, planned to put in a shift at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory shop in Sedona’s shopping district. But she woke up at 7 a.m. to find the road in front of her house — across from the Verde River — under a couple of feet of water. Nobody in their neighborhood could leave.
“Yesterday it wasn’t high at all so we didn’t think much of it. But last night it started rising. My neighbors across the street — it went into their garage,” Loll said. “It was pretty scary. We’re lucky it didn’t get into our yard. It reached our front lawn but that’s it.”
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Loll said the last time she remembers seeing any flooding on her street was when she was 5.
The impact of substantial rainfall all day Wednesday combined with snowmelt at higher elevations could be seen on access roads, some streets and at least one major highway in the Verde Valley region.
A stretch of State Route 89A, which links Sedona and Flagstaff, remained closed due to a major rockslide and other debris, said Jayson Coil, assistant fire chief in the Sedona Fire District. But any flooded low-water crossings should improve throughout the day.
Sedona said in a statement around 6 p.m. Wednesday that a dozen areas including the Rancho Sedona RV park and the Center for the New Age were in “go” status, meaning they should evacuate immediately.
A shelter for the area was set up at the gym of Camp Verde Middle School as a precaution.
The National Weather Service in Flagstaff said only minor to moderate flooding was expected Thursday along Oak Creek, Wet Beaver Creek, the Verde River and the Little Colorado River.
Still the water rose very quickly. Oak Creek near Sedona rose almost 7 feet in 12 hours starting Wednesday morning, said Brian Klimowski, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.
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He advised residents and visitors to follow the forecast as another storm system is expected in the region early next week and will last through Wednesday. It is too early to tell how severe it will be or if there could be more flooding.
The weather conditions didn’t stop a lot of tourists from checking out Sedona on Thursday. The vacation destination is world famous for its red rock landscape and rock formations like Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. Much of the local economy comes from guests who want to take jeep tours and hikes. Sedona’s uptown full of souvenir shops is also a big draw.
“If everybody gets stuck and they can’t do their outdoor plans, this is when they all come shopping,” said Noelle Akrabawi, the manager of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory where Loll works. “The rainiest days are our busiest days.”
Akrabawi, who was at her home in Rimrock, said the store was able to open because one staffer actually lives in Sedona.
“This has been the worst winter in my memory,” she said.
As important as it is for the store to try to stay open on these bad weather days, Akrabawi always makes sure employees aren’t at risk. Most of the staff are college or high school age and may not be experienced at driving on Sedona roads in the rain. She also wishes more tourists would pay attention to the forecast.
“I just try to reiterate to everybody it’s so important to be up on it,” Akrabawi said. “If you’re going on vacation, you need to figure out what’s going on in the spot you’re going to.”