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Flash Flood Awareness - Storm Safety Resource Guide

What Are Flash Floods?

A flash flood is a rapid rise of water along a stream or low-lying urban area. Flash flood damage and most fatalities tend to occur in areas immediately adjacent to a stream or arroyo, due to a combination of heavy rain, dam break, levee failure, rapid snowmelt, and ice jams. Additionally, heavy rain falling on steep terrain can weaken soil and cause debris flow, damaging homes, roads, and property.

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.

Flash Flood Risk in Your Car, Truck, or Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV)

Almost half of all flash flood fatalities occur in vehicles. Contrary to popular belief, many people donít realize two feet of water on a bridge or highway can float most vehicles. If the water is moving rapidly, the car, truck, or SUV can be swept off the bridge and into the creek.

Water can erode the road bed, creating unsafe driving conditions. Underpasses can fill rapidly with water, while the adjacent roadway remains clear. Driving into a flooded underpass can quickly put you in five to six feet of water. Many flash floods occur at night when flooded roads are difficult to see.

When you approach a flooded road, TURN AROUND, DONíT DROWN!

Flash Flood Risks at Home, Work, or School

Since many flash floods occur along small streams, you can determine your risk by knowing your proximity to streams. Flooding can be caused by rain falling several miles upstream and then moving downstream rapidly.

Densely populated areas have a high risk for flash floods. The construction of
buildings, highways, driveways, and parking lots increases runoff by reducing
the amount of rain absorbed by the ground. This runoff increases the flash flood potential. Sometimes, streams through cities and towns are routed underground into storm drains. During periods of heavy rainfall, storm drains may become overwhelmed and flood roads and buildings. Low spots, such as underpasses, underground parking garages, and basements can become death traps.

Embankments, known as levees, are built along rivers and are used to prevent high water from flooding bordering land. In 1993, many levees failed along the Mississippi River, resulting in devastating flash floods.

Dam failures have played a deadly role in the history of flash flooding. The
United States has about 76,000 dams, and about 80 percent of those are of
earthfill construction. Be aware of any dams upstream of your location. Earthen dams are more easily compromised by heavy rainfall than are concrete structures. Water flowing over an earthen dam can cause the dam to weaken or fail, sending a destructive wall of water downstream.

Flash Flood Risk to Recreation (Camping, Hiking, Boating, Fishing)

Many people enjoy hiking, fishing, or camping along streams and rivers. Listen to weather forecasts and keep away from streams if thunderstorms have happened or have been predicted upstream from where you are. A creek only 6 inches deep in mountainous areas can swell to a 10-foot deep raging river in less than an hour if a thunderstorm inundates the area with intense rainfall.

When thunderstorms are in the area, stay alert for rapidly changing conditions. You may notice the stream start to rise quickly and become muddy. You may hear a roaring sound upstream that may be a flood wave moving rapidly toward you. Head immediately for higher ground. Donít be swept away by the rising water. There are dangers associated with fast-moving water, but with common sense and some preparation, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy a safe day along a stream or river.


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