With the advent of hand-held video technology, virtually anyone can capture amazing impromptu videos of weather-related events, including flash floods. Scenes of cars, people and animals being carried away by forceful currents serve as grim reminders that flash flooding is more common than you might be aware. Videos like that always make me wonder why the camera man is filming instead of trying to help!
NOAA defines a flash flood as: A flood caused by heavy or excessive rainfall in a short period of time, generally less than six hours. 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.
Flash floods can be produced when slow moving or multiple thunderstorms occur over the same area. When storms move faster, flash flooding is less likely since the rain is distributed over a broader area.
- The national 30-year average for flood deaths is 127.
- Almost half of all flash flood fatalities occur in vehicles. So I guess I am reducing my risk of being killed in a flash flood by staying on all four paws!
- Rapidly rising water can reach heights of 30 feet or more.
- Two feet of water on a bridge or highway could float most vehicles.
- Flash flood damage and most fatalities tend to occur in areas immediately adjacent to a stream or arroyo.
- Highly populated areas have a high risk for flash floods.
- During a flash flood, low spots, such as underpasses, underground parking garages and basements can quickly become death traps. So move to higher ground, people!
- Embankments, known as levees, are built along the sides of river banks to prevent high water from flooding bordering land. In 1993, many levees failed along the Mississippi River, resulting in devastating flash floods.
- In the United States, there are some 76,000 dams, 80 percent of which are made of earthfill construction.
- The majority of flash-flood victims are males.
One of the first steps to take toward flash flood safety, is to evaluate your risk for being caught in a flash flood. Since many flash floods occur along small streams, you can determine your risk by assessing your proximity to streams. Be aware that flooding can be caused by rain that falls several miles upstream and then moves rapidly downstream. Here are 10 more suggestions to keep you safe in the event of a flash flood:
- Since many leisure activities occur in and around streams and rivers, be aware of potential risks.
- Don’t play in flood waters. This is especially applicable to children and pets. Does that mean adults can play safely in flood waters? No!
- Whenever thunderstorms are occurring in the area, pay attention to rapidly changing conditions.
- If you notice a stream start to rise and become muddy, or hear a roaring sound upstream, a flood wave could be rushing toward you. Head to higher ground immediately.
- Never drive into a flooded roadway or through flowing water. Turn around. Don’t drown.
- Don’t walk through moving water. Six or more inches of moving water could cause you to fall and could carry you away.
- Monitor NOAA Weather Radio, or your favorite news source for vital weather-related information.
- Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.
- If caught in a flood, abandon your car. If flood waters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be quickly swept away. Here again, I notice it’s safer to stay on your feet and out of a car.
- If you are at home when a flash flood hits, if you have time, secure your home and turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.
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