Flash Flood Safety Rules and Tips
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Flash Flood Safety Rules and Tips

A flash flood can happen in minutes while camping, hiking, driving or in your own home. You should know these flash flood safety rules and tips.

Flash floods kill an average of 100 people in the United States every year in both rural areas and in major cities. You should know these flash flood safety rules and tips.

There are differences between a flash flood and a flood. A flash flood can happen in an instant and without any warning whereas a flood usually has some amount of forewarning. With a flood, the waters are usually forecast to rise in a certain amount of time and where.

Flash Flood Weather

A flash flood can happen any place and at any time. In the eastern United States along the Appalachian Mountains, heavy rains from an old hurricane can cause flash flooding.

In the high plains or the southwestern deserts, a thunderstorm can turn a normally dry creek bed into a raging river in minutes.

The mountains of the western United States can have flash floods from stationary thunderstorms in a canyon. There are also dam failures and ice dams that build up and break, causing a flash flood. A flash flood can happen in the driest deserts of the US.

Flash flood warning signs in Death Valley, California. One of the driest places on earth.

Flash Flood Safety While Driving

Half of the people that are killed in flash floods happen while in cars. Driving through a flooded road is very dangerous; there are signs that say “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”.

It can be a hard decision to make when you are driving and see what looks like a small amount of water flowing across the road, but only 6 inches of water can move a vehicle and 2 feet of water can carry a car away.

A bigger danger is you don’t know what is under the water. Many times what looks like inches of water can actually be hiding the road completely washed away.

During flash floods, there might be a barrier or warning sign and people will just drive around the warnings. It might be a rural county road or a major city street where flash floods can make driving dangerous. A 1998 flash flood in Kansas City, Missouri killed 11 people, 10 of those were in their car.

Flash Flood Safety While Hiking and Camping

You have to pay attention to the weather, especially upstream from where you are. A gentle stream can turn into a raging river in minutes.

In canyons there are warning signs that say climb to safety, know where to go in case you hear or see rising water. If you are in a dry creek bed and hear rushing water, move out of the creek bed immediately.

A lot of people will turn their cell phones off while camping and cannot be notified of a flash flood or reception is unreliable. Having a portable NOAA weather radio with an alert tone set on can save your life. You can print out a list of NOAA weather radio frequencies for any part of the country from this web site.

If you don’t have a weather radio, but you do have a laptop with you, you can hear many local weather radio broadcasts over the internet. You can find these web sites for any part of the country at WeatherUnderground.Com.

Pay attention to road signs, many locations will have a blue road sign that will give you the frequency to tune to on your AM radio to listen to these weather radio broadcasts.

Flash Flood Safety at Home

Long before a flood disaster hits your area, you should know if you live in a flood plain and you should know the escape route you will take if a flash flood hits your area.

Have important papers and other items in an area that can be gotten to quickly if you have to leave your home. Keep batteries, radios and flashlights in good working order.

If there is threatening weather conditions before you go to bed, you should leave your weather radio on the alert mode. If there is a flash flood warning during the night, the alert tone will wake you.

Flash Flood Alerts from the National Weather Service

The National Weather Service has several types of watches and warnings for flash floods.

  • Urban and Small Stream Flood Advisory. This will be issued when heavy rains are causing the flooding of streets, underpasses, storm drains and small streams at the current time.
  • Flash Flood Watch. A watch will be issued when the conditions are right for the possibility of flash flooding. This usually happens when there have been heavy rains over the same area for the past couple of days and more is forecast. Or there is a threat of stationary storms that could cause flash flooding.
  • Flash Flood Warning. This means that a flash flood is occurring or about to occur for the creeks, rivers or area of the warning. If you hear this warning and it is for your area, you need to take immediate actions and get to higher ground or stay out of the flooded areas.

More Flash Flood Safety Tips

  • Do not cross moving water when it is above your knees.
  • If storms are in the area, stay away and out of dry gulches, arroyos, draining ditches or storm drains.
  • Know that fast moving water can erode the stream bank and collapse it, causing you to fall in.
  • Be careful at night when seeing flood waters can be difficult.

Road washed away under the flowing flood waters.

Teach Your Kids Flash Flood Safety Rules

Fast moving water is nothing to play around with. Where I live, many parks have pretty tree-lined small streams with a trickle of water. These streams are also used for flood-control, to drain water from the higher areas to the creeks during storms.

As a trained storm spotter, I was asked to check a park after a torrential thunderstorm. I watched three young kids walk towards the stream. Two of the kids walked over the bridge, but the third kid just had to walk through the stream, which at this time was a raging creek out of the banks. This kid became stuck on a sandbar in the middle and hung on to a tree for dear life. The water was so strong it tore his shoes and socks off of him.

We called the fire department. While trying to rescue this kid, one of the firemen was actually carried down the stream until they grabbed him. Thankfully they saved this kids life, but it could have been much worse.

A flash flood can happen quickly, and knowing the way out of the area can save your life. 

© Sam Montana August 2010


National Weather Service

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Comments (7)

Excellent and very helpful tips, Sam.

This is outstanding, well presented very important information. The most frightening part is how quick it comes out of nowhere and the roads washed away under what looks like just a few inches of water. frightening.

wow that would have been scary watching the other kid... its their own fault for taking the risk, but still we all know how some risks dont seem so risky at the time.. this is a good warning/reminder to everyone.

Very helpful tips and timely for our country who experiences flash flood every typhoon. Many thanks for the share.

Timely information! I live near the mountains where flash floods can be a real problem. There have been flash floods miles and miles downstream from a storm, so everyone should know what to do, just in case.

Very important article, flash floods can be very dangerous and some people just don't realize how dangerous a situation they are actually in.

This, truly, is a very helpful tip. I must bear this in mind as I usually go on field trips.