Flash flooding is one of the deadliest weather events in the United States and is becoming increasingly common due to climate change. Already in 2022 there will be a estimated 67 Americans have died in floods, and about 100 people drown in floods in the United States each year. You may not be able to prepare for every emergency, but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of dying or being rescued in floods.
When it rains heavily in a short period of time, flash floods can sometimes occur within a few minutes. Floods are nothing new, but the warming climate is causing heavy rains occur more frequently and drop more water.
1. Never walk or drive through flood water
Because flash floods develop so quickly, people living near areas newly prone to these floods may not take the initial shallow water seriously. More than half of flood-related deaths occur in vehicles, said Kate Abshire, the director of national flash flood services for the National Weather Service. She explained that cars become “metal bubbles” during flash floods, and once a vehicle is swept away, it’s difficult for passengers to exit safely.
“We have that ‘turn around, don’t drown‘Slogan for good reason. It only takes six inches of moving water to knock someone off their feet and 18 inches to levitate a vehicle,” Abshire said. “It’s often very difficult to judge the depth of the water when it’s muddy. Take alternative routes. Don’t drive through the flood water.”
If you don’t have to go out in heavy rain, it’s best to stay where you are. If the worst happens and you find yourself in a car in rising water, ABC News has released tips to learn what steps to take, including opening the windows as soon as possible and moving to the roof of the vehicle.
2. Know your escape routes
So, we just said to stay where you are – but what if you have to evacuate? Knowing alternative routes in advance can help you safely get out of a flooded area, especially when a main road is impassable. Look up different highways and roads in your area and save some of these driving directions on your phone. Share the information with friends and family so they know where to go in case you end up needing help.
If you’re not sure which routes are likely to be safe, try searching “[your city name] Flood Map” which should guide you to local tools to see where in your community there is a higher risk of flooding.
3. Know how to get emergency notifications and weather updates
Yang Hong, a professor of meteorology and climatology at the University of Oklahoma, and his colleagues are working to improve emergency communications with the public during severe weather.
“We’re working with the National Weather Service and trying to develop flash flood warning systems,” he said. “We can update our system every five minutes to issue flash flood warnings. There’s still work to be done because… look at Kentucky. It’s hard to predict that much precipitation.”
He suggested the following online accounts like the many city-specific Twitter accounts of the National Weather Service. To find the account for your area, enter the name of your nearest city and “National Weather Service” into Twitter’s search function. (For example, here are the accounts for El Passo, Baltimoreand Reno.) Worried you didn’t find the right account? The official NWS accounts have blue ticks next to their handles.
Also, consider downloading an emergency mobile app and a weather forecast app. The FEMA app sends weather alerts for up to five locations per account and includes information on local emergency shelters. You can also add a shortcut to the national weather service on your phone’s mobile screen. here are the instructions for both Android and Apple users. Need more options? Check out this list Emergency and weather alerts from the National Weather Service.