How to stay safe during a flash flood
Flash floods are very dangerous and can strike with little to no warning. Here are just a few of the ways they are caused and what areas are most at risk.
According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, more people die annually as a result of flooding than from hurricanes, tornadoes, and lightning. Although flash floods are a specific type of issue, they still represent a significant number of casualties each year. Flash floods typically occur during periods of rapid rain in areas with dry or saturated soil or ground that doesn't absorb moisture sufficiently. Other natural phenomena, such as tropical storms and hurricanes, can also be the culprit. Let's take a look at some of the most important do's and don'ts to help people cope better with a flash flood.
Photo by Cristina Gottardi
What To Do
Once a flash flood hits, it's too late to make concrete plans. Instead, it's advisable to prepare an emergency plan beforehand. This is especially important for those who live in a coastal area, one that receives a lot of rainfall, or one in a designated flood zone. Emergency flash flood plans should include an escape route via roads that are least likely to flood, making it to higher ground, and packing essentials like batteries, communications devices, and food.
Know when to stay put
While evacuation might sound like an ideal escape plan, there are times when it's more dangerous to try to make it through flooded areas than it is to stay put. If the areas surrounding your home are already flooded, it might be too late to evacuate. Instead, you should find a safe, high point, and call emergency services.
Follow emergency evacuation orders
If you're listening to local news reports and updates, there should be specific evacuation orders for your area. When a flash flood occurs, it's important to follow these recommendations to stay safe. While you should always make sure the suggestions aren't going to place you in jeopardy, they're typically made by people who know what they're talking about. Regardless, you should acknowledge the severity of the situation at this point.
Stay informed with Severe Weather Alerts delivered to your smartphone.
Keep an eye on local weather forecasts
Flash floods carry that name for a reason. Whether caused by excess rainfall or tropical storms, these natural disasters can happen rather quickly. Keeping an eye on local weather reports is one of the most important things you can do in this situation. Whether listening to the radio or monitoring changes on an app on your mobile device, this information can help you determine what the conditions are like outside.
What Not To Do
Ignore a flash flood watch
The terminology surrounding natural disasters can be unnecessarily complicated. When it comes to flash floods, a warning is more severe than a watch. If you come across a Flash Flood Watch for your area, it's time to take action. Don't make the mistake of waiting until the situation becomes even more dangerous and switches to a Flash Flood Warning. Rising water levels can cover roads and entire neighborhoods rather quickly.
A car sinks in floodwaters deluging Winnie, Texas, on Thursday, September 19, 2019, as Imelda drenched some parts of southeastern Texas with nearly 3 feet of rain. (Twitter / Steve Campion)
Walk or drive in flooded areas
A lot of the deaths claimed by flash floods are due to people driving their vehicles through areas with high water. People tend to misjudge how deep the water is and the ability of their vehicle to wade through the depth. Not only is this a guaranteed way to damage or destroy a vehicle, but it can also unnecessarily put the driver's life in jeopardy. As a general rule of thumb, the 'Turn around, don't drown' phrase is important to remember.
Walking around flooded areas is another potential hazard for the same reasons. It's tough to judge depth and currents accurately.
Underestimate the strength of moving water
Another major issue to avoid during a flash flood is underestimating the power of moving water. For some reason, people tend to think that floods are less dangerous than they are. Water doesn't have to be at chest-height to be an issue. Even shallow moving water can pose a risk. For example, only 2-feet of moving water can carry off a majority of vehicles of SUV-size or smaller. The height of water needed to carry away a person who's walking is significantly less. Going into a flash flood knowing the power and strength of the water can make it easier to make clear and educated decisions.
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