Driving and flash floods

June 10th, 2008 by Julie Ferguson

Flash flooding (video) in the central states over the last few days has resulted in numerous deaths. With “ordinary” flooding, there is a build up over time from rain or melting snow as rivers and bodies of water overflow their banks. Weather authorities and media have time to issue public alerts. But flash flooding is the rapid and extreme flow of water that occurs unexpectedly. It usually occurs within a few hours of a rain event. Flash flooding can often happen when a dam, levee, or embankment gives way or when an unusually heavy torrential rainfall occurs quickly. While some areas are prone to flash flooding, flash floods can occur unexpectedly almost anywhere given the right confluence of conditions.
Here are some facts about floods that many people don’t know:

  • Flash flooding is one of the most frequent weather-related killers in the U.S., resulting in more deaths than lightning or tornadoes
  • Nearly half of all flash flood fatalities are auto-related
  • Six inches of fast moving water can knock you off your feet
  • A depth of 18-24 inches of water will float your car, SUV, or pickup
  • 90% of all presidentially declared natural disasters include flooding
  • Flooding can occur in any of the 50 states or U.S. territories at anytime of the year

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service have embarked on an ongoing public education campaign which encourages people to Turn Around – Don’t Drown. Ironically, many victims who die in flood-related conditions do so because they are in a hurry to get home to safety! Here are some precautionary tips:

  • Be aware of and avoid areas on your way to and from work and home that are subject to flooding in heavy rain conditions.
  • Monitor weather conditions through NOAA or reliable news radio.
  • If you come upon roads or walkways covered with water, the depth of the water or the condition of the road underneath cannot be adequately assessed. Don’t drive or walk through water – turn around and find another route.
  • Don’t drive around barricades.
  • Be particularly alert at night.
  • If a vehicle stalls in water, leave it immediately and move to higher ground. Many vehicles are swept away, greatly increasing the danger for occupants.

How employers can help
Research demonstrates that those who take flash flood warnings seriously and have knowledge about the associated risks are less inclined to attempt to drive through water than those who don’t. Public education which emphasizes the seriousness of flash flood warnings and safe driving behavior can save lives. Employers can:

  • Know and be familiar with the Emergency Alert System and the various NOAA weather hazard warning categories
  • Monitor NOAA weather radio during unusual or potentially hazardous weather conditions
  • Know if your workplace is located in a high-risk area for flash flooding
  • Communicate flood warnings to workers, particularly at times when people are commuting to or from work
  • Help to raise awareness about the dangers of driving in flood conditions. (We’ve compiled some resources, below)
  • Equip your outdoor workers and frequent drivers with safety and prevention tips for weather-related hazards, including hot and cold weather hazards, and safety tips for working or driving in snow and ice, electrical storms, and flooded areas or flash floods
  • Issue special safety precautions and training for workers engaged in flood clean-up or rescue

Additional resources
Flood safety Awareness – The National Weather Service
Floods: the awesome power – PDF from the National Weather Service
Are you ready for a flood or a flash flood? – PDF from the American Red Cross
How to survive flash floods in your car