19 July 2017

Cold Springs swimming hole: a mudflow tragedy in Arizona

Posted by Dave Petley

Cold Springs swimming hole: a mudflow tragedy in Arizona

On 16th July a sudden mudflow and subsequent flash flood swept through the Cold Springs swimming hole in Tonto National Park in Arizona.  This dramatic event came out of the blue for those at the swimming hole.  It was immensely powerful – the latter stages of the flood component were caught on the video below, uploaded onto Youtube by AP:-


The Weather Channel also has a video of the event, which explains why it is right to cause this event a mudflow. This is a still from the video:-

Cold Springs swimming hole

Still froma Weather Channel video of the Cold Springs swimming hole mudflow


The Washington Post has a decent report of the event.

It began as yet another scorching Saturday in central Arizona as scores of families flocked to the cool waters of a popular swimming hole, seeking relief from the 100-degree temperatures in the cities.

Among them was an extended family of 14 from Phoenix. They gathered at the Cold Springs swimming hole in the Tonto National Forest, near Payson, to celebrate Maria Raya’s 26th birthday, their relatives told local media.

At about 3 p.m., it was barely drizzling as the Raya family and others waded in the water and hiked along the narrow canyon, its scenic waterfall and granite rock formations in the backdrop.

Suddenly the adults and children swimming in the canyon heard a roar. As they turned to look upstream, they saw a massive wall of dark muddy water rushing toward them, carrying tree trunks and logs the sizes of vehicles, Ron Sattelmaier, Water Wheel Fire and Medical District fire chief, told The Washington Post, citing interviews with witnesses.

The flash flood’s six-foot tall, 40-foot wide torrents of murky water swept away Raya, her children and several other family members, spanning three generations, while other relatives grasped onto trees waiting to be rescued. By Sunday, nine people had been found dead. Authorities did not identify the dead, but relatives listed the names to local media.

It is likely that the final toll in the Cold Spings swimming hole landslide disaster will be ten people.  The area upstream of the Cold Springs swimming hole has been affected by forest fires in recent months, explaining both the ferocity of the flow and the vast amount of wood that it transported.  The area was swept by large thunderstorms on the day of the disaster.