Why Flash Floods Are Dangerous and How to Survive A Flash Flood

A flood is a devastating weather event for any person and community. Within moments, homes, farm animals, crops and, sadly, even human lives die. We all know the causes of flash floods: rain, relentless rain pouring down until the earth is no longer capable of absorbing the water. Read to know about what is a flash flood warning.

However, in most cases, people get warning of flood ahead of time and can make preparations to safeguard their lives and property: poultry and livestock can be moved to higher ground and valuables can be moved to a friend’s or relative’s home in a safe area.

There is one situation, though, when there is no time to prepare: flash floods.

What Are Flash Floods?

According to the US National Weather Service, a flash flood is “a rapid and extreme flow of high water into a normally dry area, or a rapid water level rise in a stream of the creek above the predetermined flood level.”

For your understanding, the predetermined flood level is the level at which water spills over the river banks and covers the land around it. So, why is there no way to issue a warning of flood for flash floods?

First of all, let us understand how a flash flood occurs.

What Causes Flash Floods?

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There are two main causes of flash floods.

1. Dams

The first reason for causing a flash flood is when a dam cracks or breaks. Dams are generally built on the courses of rivers to create a hydropower plant and supply a community with electricity.

Thus, the river water is collected in a vast barrier lake, and it is allowed to flow downstream in a controlled flow which makes the turbines turn and generate electricity.

When the dam breaks, water no longer flows in a controlled manner. Instead, it releases a massive volume of water over the terrain, way beyond the capacity of the earth to absorb it.

2. Heavy Rainfall

The second cause is heavy rainfall. This weather event usually occurs during spring and summer. For instance, on 27 May 2018, torrential rain caused the Patapsco River to rise by over 16.5 feet (5 meters) within only three hours, causing a flash flood that devastated Ellicott City, Maryland.

According to WeatherNation, the river rose at a steady rate of 3 feet every 15 minutes (by comparison, the average American is around 5 feet and 10 inches tall).

Two opposing conditions of the soil also favor Flash floods.

When the soil is too saturated with water during a rainy season, it is no longer capable of absorbing more water. Oppositely, when the earth is too dry during a period of drought, its pores are closed, and it cannot absorb water.

It looks like a lose-lose situation, doesn’t it? However, now it’s time to answer the burning question: why are flash floods dangerous?

Why Are Flash Floods Dangerous?

The Speed of Flash Floods Makes Them So Dangerous

There you have it, why there can be no warning of flood in this situation. By the time the authorities manage to react and send out the warning of floods, the damage has already been done. If you look back at the Patapsco River example, it only took 3 hours for its water to spill over the banks and flood Ellicott City.

In the case of regular floods, the residents of the affected areas have a few days to prepare and evacuate their homes. In the case of flash floods, you only have minutes to save yourself.

Survival Guide If A Flash Flood Catches You

Stay on a lookout for flash flood warning. I will cover the most common three situations you may find yourself in during a flash flood. So let’s know about how to survive a flash flood.

1. At Home

If you are at home and your house has a solid foundation, you are advised to go up to the highest level and wait until the flood passes. Make sure to keep your pantry stocked at all times with an emergency kit consisting of canned food, bottled water, candles and batteries for the radio.

Even in the internet age, you can always trust the local radio station to notify you when the danger is over.

2. Outdoors

Given the cause of flood (sudden rain or dam break), you can be anywhere when a flash flood occurs: shopping, camping in the middle of nature, fishing by a river, etc.

So, if the flash flood catches you, your first action must be to head for higher ground. It may mean going into a building and up the stairs to the top level. Similarly, it may involve climbing a sturdy tree or a hill. It may mean getting hold of a rock and slowly working your way to the top.

At any rate, DO NOT TRY to walk through the flood. It takes as little as six inches of fast-flowing water to knock you off your feet and carry you along. Also, do not stop to pick your belongings. Your life is more precious than the latest gadget or the shiniest piece of jewelry.

3. In the Car

With no warning of floods, you are very likely to be caught by a flash flood as you are driving to or from home. In this situation, do not try to drive through the flood. Unfortunately, this is a driver’s first reaction and the cause of most deaths during flash floods.

One or two feet of water will sweep your car away and carry it downstream. Always try to drive away to the left or right of the general course of the flood, looking for higher ground.

4. In the Flood

Last, but not least, if the flood catches you despite your best efforts to avoid it, do not panic. Go with the flow and do not try to fight it. Keep your feet oriented downstream and your head and shoulders above the water.

If possible, grab a stick to push debris away before it can injure you. When you find a safe nook within your reach, stay put, and wait until the flood is over.

Thankfully, flash floods are not very frequent as they require specific conditions to occur. However, it is always best to prepare for any situation.

And this ends my list of recommendations for staying safe during this dangerous weather event. What other advice would you like to share about surviving a flash flood?

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SEO and Content writer, translator, dreamer. These are some of the words which describe Silvia. She believes in the power of words - both for good and for evil. She also believes that we can all choose to use words in a positive manner, to share information, ideas, feelings, and truth. There is nothing more rewarding than to be the instrument through which knowledge is shared among other people. From this point of view, she considers herself in a privileged position of trust, which she strives never to betray.