Today's downpour in Phoenix has flooded social media. The combination of so many new residents because of the metropolitan area's extreme population churn, sprawl built out in flood plains and the on-the-cheap engineering of freeways makes many believe this is a shocking and rare event. In fact, flooding is commonplace in Phoenix.
As a child in 1965, my mother took me to see the Salt River running wild over its banks. The snowpack was especially heavy that year and as it melted it filled the lakes northwest of the city, causing the Salt River Project to release water from its dams. My grandmother told stories about the floods in the early 1900s, including two that destroyed the Southern Pacific bridge just north of downtown Tempe. In one case, a passenger car was hanging over the edge. "You might not see this again in your lifetime," my mother said.
In high school in south Scottsdale, Indian Bend Wash flooded regularly, dividing the town in half and disrupting classes. The city built bridges but neglected to raise the approaches, so the wash merely went around them. It took years to engineer decent bridges and create the green belt along the Indian Bend.
The 1980 flood (one of ten that hit between 1967 and that year) cut off Tempe, Mesa and Chandler. Amtrak ran a special train (the Hattie B., named after first lady Hattie Babbitt) from those cities to Union Station. Ominously, officials worried Stewart Mountain Dam might fail. And when I returned in the 2000s, the Salt ran rampant again.