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Eugene Smuts via KSL TV

Video shows how fast deadly flash flooding filled slot canyon

By Jed Boal, KSL TV | Posted - May 13, 2020 at 9:15 a.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — Two children hiking in one of Utah’s most popular slot canyons were killed after a sudden storm caused flash flooding, washing the girls away. Another hiker, who happened to be a weather researcher, shot video of the flash flood as the water surged.

The hike in the Little Wild Horse Canyon of Emery County turned deadly quickly on Monday.

KSL took a look at that video with a rescuer who knows the canyon well, and who was surprised by the timing of that storm.

“We probably would have kept an eye on the sky while we were in the canyon,” said Todd Taylor, a volunteer with Salt Lake County Search and Rescue team. “The weather report ahead of time would not have discouraged us from being in the canyon or being near Goblin Valley, at all.”

The potential for thunderstorms is the greatest concern on most hikes, on most days, throughout Utah, he said.

That thunderstorm Monday, this time of year, came as a surprise to hikers and climbers who know the canyon well.

Tom Gowan shot video of the rising water in Little Wild Horse Canyon after he scrambled to higher ground to get away from the surging water. He later posted it on social media and shared it with KSL TV.

“I can’t believe this literally just happened,” you can hear him say on the video as the water rises below.

“I’m just happy that we turned around,” replied one of his hiking partners.

Gowan is a weather researcher, working on a doctorate at the University of Utah.

He said his group knew the chance of heavy rain-producing thunderstorms was low. When they heard thunder, they got out of the slots. As they retreated, the storm unloaded — heavy rain turned into nickel-sized hail. Gowan called it “scary stuff,” and said the river went from a dry wash to a raging river in 15 minutes.

“They needed to be able to get out of danger in a hurry,” said Taylor. “They did a good job. They were prepared to stay at higher ground for several hours.”

On the video, Gowan says, “We’re going to be here a bit. We have to wait a few hours, it’s the best decision.”

The weather is always Taylor’s first concern on any hike, especially in a slot canyon.

A thunderstorm was not expected Monday.

“This time of year, it’s not a major concern for us: the weather,” he said. “So, yesterday, what happened really caught a lot of people by surprise.”

When you are heading out on any hike, always tell someone exactly where you are going and when you will be back. That is especially critical in places like slot canyons where there is no phone service.

Taylor always takes enough food, water and sun protection for the day in addition to his maps, or GPS.

He also prepares to spend the night if he must. Even with proper preparation, the weather at times can be overwhelming.

“The slot canyon that filled with water and debris surprised them and surprised me that it could happen in the middle of May with the forecast we had,” he said.

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Jed Boal

KSL Weather Forecast