Severe Weather Preparedness 101: The Dangers Of Flooding
Turn Around, Don't Drown!
Floods are among the most frequent and costly natural disasters in terms of human hardship and economic loss. As much as 90 percent of the damage related to all natural disasters is caused by floods and associated debris flows. Most communities in the United States can experience some kind of flooding. Over the 10-year period from 1988 to 1997, floods cost the Nation, on average, $3.7 billion annually. Flooding is the #1 severe weather killer. Flooding is responsible for more weather related deaths than tornadoes and lightning fatalities combined (statistical yearly average). The annual average number of deaths related to flooding is 110 per year, mostly as a result of flash floods, with half of those being vehicle related deaths.
Flash flooding is the most dangerous type of flooding you can encounter. A flash flood is a flood caused by heavy or excessive rainfall in a short period of time, generally less than 6 hours in duration. Flash floods are usually characterized by raging torrents after heavy rains that rip through river beds, urban streets, or mountain canyons sweeping everything before them. They can occur within minutes or a few hours of excessive rainfall. They can also occur even if no rain has fallen, for instance after a levee or dam has failed, or after a sudden release of water by a debris or ice jam. The peak time for flash flooding is at night, making it hard to see how deep water is on the road. The road bed may be washed away under the water, making the flood waters deeper than they appear. During a flash flood, it is important to remember that flooding does not only occur near rivers. Roads and intersections can be flooded quickly with excess rainfall. Do not drive onto flooded roads or into flowing water! Find a different route that avoids the flood water. Evacuate to higher ground if advised, and do so quickly before access is cut off. Finally, do not walk, swim, or play in flood waters. it only takes 6 inches of flowing water to knock a person off their feet.
There are many hazards and dangers associated with flooding, but the biggest danger is driving into flood waters. By now, we should all know NEVER to drive through flooded roadways or streets. It’s something that we hear every year during the wet rainy spring months. We are all familiar with the saying “Turn around, don’t drown.” Yet every year people take it for granted and ignore the hazards associated with flooding and continue to put themselves in harm’s way. It is a matter of common sense really, but the everyday hustle and bustle, and the need to be somewhere seems to overrule people’s rationale when it comes to driving on flooded roadways. You are in a hurry and need to be somewhere. There is water across the road, but it doesn't look too deep. What do you do? Many people think “oh I can make it across just fine” and will attempt to cross the flooded road regardless. Nothing bad could happen, right? WRONG. TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN. You can never be sure how deep the flood water really is.
|A road and bridge overcome by raging flood waters in Duvall Washington. NEVER cross a flooded road. "TURN AROUND, DON'T DROWN!"|
FLOOD WATERS & YOUR VEHICLE:
Did you know that it only takes 6 inches of water to make a standard passenger car begin to float? 6 inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and engine stalling. Once water reaches the bottom of the vehicle, you begin to lose traction with the tires and your car will start to slide. 12 inches of water is all it takes for your vehicle to be completely buoyant. Once the buoyancy force is greater than the vehicle's weight, you lose any friction keeping the tires grounded and you are floating! Two feet of rushing water will sweep and carry away most vehicles including SUVs and full size trucks. That’s all it takes, water that is only knee deep will cause your vehicle to float. This is especially dangerous in flash flooding situations. For instance, if a creek is rushing across a roadway and your vehicle stalls and begins to float, the force of the rushing water will sweep you off the road and into the creek, river, or deeper flood waters. From there, thing can take a drastic turn for the worst. Once your vehicle is in deeper water it will begin to rapidly sink putting you at risk of drowning and being unable to escape your vehicle, something we will discuss a little later on. The videos below are an excellent example of how quickly this can become deadly. Under no circumstance should you ever risk driving across a flooded roadway! TURN AROUND, DON'T DROWN!
Monitor local media or an all hazards alert radio for updated weather conditions and flood-related alerts and warnings, and always carry a cell phone when traveling.
Turn Around, Don't Drown. You can lose control of your vehicle in only a few inches of water and risk jeopardizing the safety of yourself and others by causing an accident , becoming stranded, or worse, being swept away and trapped in your vehicle.
Plan alternate routes to work, school and other essential destinations in case your primary path is flooded. Allow extra travel time to avoid inconveniencing employers, clients, care-givers or others who may depend on your timely arrival.
Be especially cautious when driving at night. Flood waters are more difficult to see in the dark, and conditions can change quickly. Even if a road was passable on the way to work, it might not be on the way home.
NEVER enter flood waters attempting to rescue a stranded motorist. In addition to the health risks posed by numerous pathogens, bacteria, and pollutants in unsanitary flood water, unseen currents can quickly overtake even strong swimmers, creating the need for another rescue. Call 911 and wait for help to arrive.
|A powerful image of cars trapped and submerged by flood waters in Louisiana. "TURN AROUND, DON'T DROWN!"|
ESCAPING FROM YOUR VEHICLE:
Once your vehicle reaches deeper water it will begin to sink rapidly. Remember, this does not necessarily have to occur in rural flooded areas, or along creeks and rivers. Low lying underpasses also will have flood water deep enough to submerge a vehicle, putting it's driver and/or occupants at risk of drowning. If you are in a vehicle that is sinking in flood waters, your chance of drowning increases by 50%. If you are in a vehicle that is sinking in flood waters, it is essential to act quickly and utilize an escape option. Try to open your door or a window as quickly as possible if able to do so. If you do not already have a window open, you may not be able to escape and could be doomed to a watery grave. Once flood waters reach the electrical components of your vehicle, they will short out and fry. Electric door locks and electric windows will not work. The extreme force and pressure of the water pushing against the car doors easily make it so you cannot open them. If the speed of the flood water doubles the force it exerts, then that force against your car is quadrupled. It becomes impossible to open your doors against that kind of force. You could find yourself trapped in your vehicle with no way to get out. What do you do? PREPARATION. While the reality is that most people will not encounter this type of dire situation, it is extremely important to remember to always be ready and be prepared. Never tell yourself "this won't happen to me". Have the mindset that that it could happen, and be equipped to deal with such a scenario. That is why it is a good idea to always carry an emergency window breaking tool in your vehicle at all times...just in case. This is a life saving device if you are unable to open a door or window to exit your vehicle. The sole purpose of these tools is to break windows quickly (even under water) shattering them completely, allowing you an escape option. Most of these tools also come equipped with a device that will quickly cut away seat belts as well. It is vital that you remain calm and do not panic. This could save your life. There are a variety of emergency window breaking tools available, most commonly some sort of hammer device. Some are even small enough to attach to a key-chain. These tools can be found at most major retailers such as Wal-Mart and Lowe's for example or online and cost on average around $15. A good investment that may save your life. http://hubpages.com/autos/My-5-favorite-emergency-window-breakers-for-cars
KNOWING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FLOOD ADVISORY/ WATCH & FLOOD WARNING:
There are three categories of "flood products" issued by the NWS to be aware of. A flood advisory, a flood watch, and a flood warning. As with severe thunderstorm and tornado watches/warnings, knowing the difference between these can prepare individuals for the necessary steps to take when considering the threat of severe weather, in this case flooding. Knowing and understanding the difference is very important. Understanding the difference will allow you to adequately plan ahead and judge the amount of time needed to react and take the necessary precautions. For example, you will not want to wait until a flood warning is activated to evacuate or take needed precautions. It may be too late and could put you in a very dangerous situation. Timing and planning is essential. Plan ahead. Be prepared. React early. Take the poor grandmother and her grandchildren in Palestine Texas for instance, Unfortunately she was caught off guard and tried to escape the flash flooding. A last minute decision made in a state of panic could cost you your life.
- Flood Advisory: Be Aware: A Flood Advisory is issued when a specific weather event that is forecast to occur may become a nuisance. A Flood Advisory is issued when flooding is not expected to be bad enough to issue a warning. However, it may cause significant inconvenience, and if caution is not exercised, it could lead to situations that may threaten life and/or property.
- Flood Watch: Be Prepared: A Flood Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for a specific hazardous weather event to occur. A Flood Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for flooding. It does not mean flooding will occur, but it is possible.
- Flood Warning: Take Action! A Flood Warning is issued when the hazardous weather event is imminent or already happening. A Flood Warning is issued when flooding is imminent or already occurring.
- Flash Flood Warning: Take Action! A Flash Flood Warning is issued when a flash flood is imminent or already occurring. If you are in a flood prone area, move immediately to high ground. A flash flood is a sudden violent flood that can take from minutes to hours to develop. It is even possible to experience a flash flood in areas not immediately receiving rain.
Unlike severe thunderstorm or tornado warnings, flood products are normally issued for extended periods of time. These warnings are normally issued for 2 to 4 hours, or longer. Even though rainfall may have subsided, flooding may persist for some time. The longer warning time allows for rainwater to recede while keeping the public aware that flooding is still occurring and there is still a threat to life and/or property in the warned area. Flood and flash flood warnings will be transmitted on NOAA Weather Radio, and WILL alert your radio. Advisories do NOT alert your radio.
FLOOD CLEAN UP~ THE HIDDEN DANGERS:
There are many other dangers associated with flooding. The 2nd most common hazard of flooding, and one that most people do not think about is the clean-up process in flood damaged homes after flooding has occurred. The most important thing to consider when entering a flood damaged property is safety. There can, and will be hazards all around, from problems with electrical items and natural gas appliances to contaminated water, mold, bacteria, and much, much more . This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list of precautions, but a list of things you might not think about. Please use common sense before entering the property. If it doesn’t appear safe, DO NOT ENTER . Call a professional to make sure.
- Before you turn anything on or plug in an appliance, have an electrician check the house wiring and appliances to make sure it is safe to use.
- If any of the appliances have been under water, have them dried out and reconditioned by a qualified service repairman. Do not use any electrical appliance that has not been checked out or reconditioned because it poses an electrical shock hazard and could overheat the appliance and cause a fire.
- If you use any electrical equipment for cleanup, i.e. wet-dry vacuum, power tools etc. be sure they are plugged into a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). Do not allow power cords to be submerged or wet. Never remove or bypass the ground pin on a three-pronged plug in order to insert it into a non-grounded outlet. Electrical circuit breakers and fuses that have been submerged need to be discarded and replaced with new.
- Have all gas appliances (LP and natural gas) inspected and serviced before using. This includes gas furnaces, water heaters, cook stoves etc. If they were underwater have the gas controls replaced. Water and silt can damage gas controls and cause them to not operate properly. If you smell gas or hear it escaping, turn off the main line valve, open windows, and leave the area. Call the gas company and report the problem. Never use any electrical appliance, turn lights on or off, light a match, or us the telephone. These all may produce sparks.
- Smoke detectors need to be tested before and after any work is done in the house. Smoke detectors can save your life in case of fire or smoke.
- Many deaths have occurred during cleanup work while burning charcoal for cooking and staying warm. Never burn charcoal appliances inside homes, mobile homes, garages, cars, trucks, tents, or campers. Charcoal gives off carbon monoxide when burned. Carbon monoxide is odorless and can kill you.
- Remember to keep household chemicals and medicines locked up or stored out of children’s reach.
|NEVER enter a flooded home until you make sure it is safe.|
|A car partially submerged by flood waters in Texas.|
FLOOD SAFETY TIPS:
Before a Flood
- Avoid building in a floodplain. Construct barriers (levees, beams, flood-walls) to stop floodwater from entering your home. Seal walls in basements with waterproofing compounds to avoid seepage. If a flood is likely in your area, listen to the radio or television for information. Know the difference between a flood watch and a flood warning. A watch means flooding is possible. A warning means flooding is occurring or will occur soon.
- Be prepared! Pack a bag with important items in case you need to evacuate. Don't forget to include needed medications. If advised to evacuate your home, do so immediately. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground. If possible, bring in outdoor furniture and move essential items to an upper floor. Turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Turn off gas.
- Do not walk through moving water. As little as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of moving water can knock you off your feet. If you have to walk in water, wherever possible, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you. Do not drive into flooded areas. If flood waters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.
- Listen for news reports to learn whether the community's water supply is safe to drink. Avoid flood waters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage. Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines. Avoid moving water. Be aware of areas where flood waters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car. Stay away from downed power lines, and report them to the power company. Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe. Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by flood waters. Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewage systems are serious health hazards. Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwater can contain sewage and chemicals.
Prepare a Flood Plan
- Know your flood risk.
- Make a flood emergency plan.
- Build or restock your emergency preparedness kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash, medications, and first aid supplies.
- Consider buying flood insurance.
- Familiarize yourself with local emergency plans. Know where to go and how to get there should you need to get to higher ground, the highest level of a building, or to evacuate.
- Stay tuned to your phone alerts, TV, or radio for weather updates, emergency instructions, or evacuation orders.
|A slot canyon in Utah.|
The slot canyons of Utah and Arizona can be beautiful and majestic. They are a popular attraction among hikers and campers. But as amazing as they are, they can also be death traps, and for many people, are the last place you'd expect to see a flash flood. The common misconception here is that these canyons are in the desert and are not always directly near rivers or streams. No risk of flooding right? WRONG. This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, slot canyons themselves are formed by the wear of water rushing through rock. Hundreds of years of flash flooding actually created these wonders of nature. Many tourists don't take this into consideration when visiting these canyons and are completely oblivious to the potential danger they can bring.
If you are not aware of the weather conditions the day you explore or visit canyons such as this, it could be a deadly. So what is the danger here? Thunderstorms in these areas can come without warning. The tight, sinuous nature of slot canyons make them extremely deadly when thunderstorms send torrents of rain either directly down on the slots or miles upstream. The narrows of these slot canyons are susceptible to flash flooding because much of the surrounding area is bare rock that does not absorb water. During storms, runoff is funneled rapidly into the narrows. During a flash flood the water level rises almost instantly, within seconds or minutes. Flash floods are common in the slot canyons of Zion National Park and hikers have been stranded, injured, and even killed by venturing into narrow, flood prone canyons. These torrents not only rage at surprising speed, but push tons of trees, rocks, and any other debris caught up in the waters. And when they flow through slot canyons, where walls can be spaced as little as 3 feet apart, this flow of water, mud and debris can quickly rise to 12 feet high, according to the National Park Service. This is why it is imperative that you pay attention to weather conditions when you are exploring slot canyons. ALWAYS take a portable weather radio with you so you can monitor potential storm activity. If a storm develops in the area, it could only be a matter of minutes before these canyons begin filling with water.
The biggest danger however isn't the presence of thunderstorms directly over you. It's the presence of thunderstorms that are NOT directly over you. Why and how you ask? Because these are the storms that many people assume will not affect them at all. These are the storms that catch people totally off guard. You are experiencing perfect weather, the sky is blue and the sun is shining warm and bright. Do you have anything to worry about as far as inclement weather goes? Is there a risk of flooding? Surprisingly to most people the answer is yes. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a thunderstorm or heavy rainfall right on top of you to create flash flooding within these canyon walls. Water runs downhill. A storm as much as 15 miles, even 30 miles away and at a higher elevation can send heavy runoff down a normally dry wash towards unsuspecting sightseers under completely sunny blue skies. Rain does not have to fall where you are hiking for flash flooding to occur. Being unaware of the weather conditions and being caught off guard like this is what kills hikers and tourist during flooding in these canyons. ALWAYS, ALWAYS be aware of the weather conditions.
|Flash floods don't just turn slot canyons deadly. Their walls of water, such as these in Courthouse Wash in Arches National Park, pose a serious threat to anyone near the stream.|
This video is an excellent representation of how quickly things can turn deadly when unprepared and caught off guard. Watch as these hikers barely escaped raging flood waters. It is important to note how nice and clear the weather seems in their location. NEVER assume just because the weather is nice that flooding doesn't pose a threat.
Watch the video below from StormViewLIVE's Bryan Valdez as he interviews a few victims of the flooding in Palestine Texas over the weekend where the grandmother and her four grandchildren were killed when their car was swept away. It gives a very clear picture of the importance of having a sense of urgency when dealing with and preparing for flooding. Listen to these victims describe just how fast they were overcome by flood waters.