Authorities were called on Thursday after two people went missing from a rafting trip after a sudden flood on the Colorado River. Rebecca Copeland of Ann Arbor, Michigan was named as the deceased. The other individual was found uninjured. Five people were evacuated by air early on Friday morning, with one in critical condition.
Multiple parts of the US were hit with heavy flooding this week with advisories in place for more rain, thunderstorms, and hail throughout the weekend.
The flooding appears to have been intensified by the lack of vegetation on a nearby mountain following a 2019 wildfire. Trees and bushes naturally absorb and store water and prevent soil erosion — without them, run-off from rainstorms is quicker overwhelming riverbeds.
In addition, flash flooding is more common in desert areas as the ground cannot absorb heavy rainfall after baking dry in the heat. Water can then rush through canyons and gullies creating extremely hazardous conditions.
The run of extreme weather across the US is being attributed to climate change, particularly the record-breaking heat in recent weeks.
The temperature in Flagstaff hit 94F (34.4C) on 15 June, breaking a record that has stood since 1974. Portland, Oregon endured a record 116F (47C) in late June, leading Governor Kate Brown to say she feared this was “a harbinger of things to come”.
On Friday, Columbia, South Carolina was hit by a fast-moving storm temporarily flooding some roads, with authorities warning drivers to exercise caution in low-lying areas.
In Detroit, the I-94 freeway closed for the second time in less than a month due to flooding after heavy rainfall swept across the city on Friday.
A rainstorm in late June saw one section of the roadway closed for a week. In response to the massive rain event, President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration for Michigan. The state was also hit by a series of tornadoes.
Meanwhile, in Missouri, two people had to be rescued from flash flooding in Madison County, having been stranded on top of their vehicle by fast-rising water.
This weekend, large parts of Montana and Idaho are under an excessive heat warning with the possibility of severe thunderstorms.
In the northeast, a flood warning covers large parts of Ohio and western New York. Up to three inches of rain is predicted over a short period of time around Buffalo, said the National Weather Service.
Much of the remainder of New York state, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the environs of Washington, DC is bracing for the possibility of severe thunderstorms on Saturday.
A flash flood watch was issued for a large part of central New Jersey with wind gusts of up to 60mph and hail possible. The accompanying torrential rainfall may see three to five inches fall in total.
Parts of southeastern Kansas and northern Oklahoma have also been told to prepare for potential flooding with a flash flood warning issued for areas in Wilson County, Kansas.
Across large swathes of the west of the country, dry thunderstorms and high temperatures have raised the risk of wildfires. Idaho, Oregon, and parts of northern California are especially at risk.
As of Friday, there are 70 large fires across 12 states, mostly in the western US, with more than one million acres burned.