While many people think floods are only a threat in coastal states and cities (Florida, Louisiana, etc.) the reality is, they can really happen anywhere in the United States. Some areas of the country experience flooding during specific times of the year.
During the period of June through November (which is hurricane season) the coastal cities see floods the most. However, the midwestern states of the US can experience floods as well during the spring and summer season, as these months are when heavy rain is most common.
Even if you live in one of the desert states in the Southwest, you’re still at risk for floods during the monsoon season in the late summer. Floods are responsible for more deaths every year than any other storm-related hazard, which is why we’re here to provide some tips on how to survive a flood.
Exploring How Flooding Occurs
Floods can be caused by a variety of factors. For example, in the spring when rivers and lakes cannot handle a lot of rain or snowmelt from the winter, or when that rain or snowmelt cannot be absorbed into the ground.
Floods can occur when waterways become blocked or when water containment areas like dams and levees break. Winds from extreme storms and hurricanes can push seawater on to land causing flooding.
Speed & Duration of Flooding
Floods can change speed and duration quickly and dramatically which is part of what makes them so dangerous. They can occur more slowly after a long period of rainfall (this is called a slow-onset flood) and often there is plenty of warning.
A rapid-onset flood is more dangerous and can develop within hours or days. These typically occur in areas with small watersheds that just can’t handle a large amount of rain (such as mountains or cities).
This type of flood is known as a flash flood and also occurs when a water containment area breaks. With a rapid-onset flood there is typically little to no warning. Flash floods can occur in urban areas where there is little room for the water to go.
Storm surges can be caused by drastic wind from storms and can even combine with tides to create a storm-tide surge. These can create large floods over vast areas and have been recorded up to 35 feet above sea level. They can happen very quickly within 4 to 8 hours but also take longer in different conditions.
Destruction Flooding Can Cause
Flooding will cause a variety of destruction depending on the level of the water, the speed with which it rises, the terrain, and the developed areas around it. Flooding can cause erosion and damage bridges, buildings, and roads. This erosion can lead to mudslides and landslides.
Flooding can be deadly for those who are trapped in an area, get swept away, or choose to drive through flood waters. They can also cause health issues by damaging public drinking water. Public services such as electricity, water, and gas can be disrupted or destroyed by a flood.
Homes affected by floods can experience tens of thousands of dollars in damage even for a small amount of water and wells can become polluted.
What to do Before a Flood Occurs
Before a flood happens it is important to be aware of the possibility, no matter where you live. Floods can happen anywhere and with little warning. If you live in a flood prone area it is especially important to be prepared.
There are some easy ways to prepare for a flood and emergencies in general. Start by having a plan and knowing how you will evacuate and where you will go. If you are asked to evacuate you should and you should be prepared before that happens. Learn the best and easiest ways to get out of your area if you need to but also have a back up plan in case those roads become blocked.
Keep your car fueled up, in good condition, and packed with emergency supplies such as:
If you know you will need to share transportation with someone, plan for that now. If you rely on public transportation contact your local government and find out the evacuation procedures such as how you will get information, routes, and staging areas.
Plan for where you will go in the event of an evacuation. Become familiar with the American Red Cross shelter app so you know where to go and how to get there.
If you have pets or anyone in your household with special needs make a plan for how you will get everyone out together. Make those preparations now and include anything needed in your emergency supplies.
Pay attention to the weather, news, and any emergency service communications. Check in on neighbors and family members and make sure everyone is able to get out. If possible help others where you can.
Watch vs. Warning
A flood “watch” means it is time to pay attention and be prepared because a flood is possible in your area. A flood “warning” means a flood has begun or will begin soon and evacuation is imminent.
The best way to stay safe is to evacuate before the flooding reaches you. Keep a close eye on instructions and information from local officials. If you can’t get to a shelter be sure to at least find high ground.
If you are needing to evacuate you will need an emergency supplies kit and there are some items that will be necessary. Pack at least 3 days of supplies for everyone in your family.
Pack the basics but you may also want medications for anyone who needs them, copies of personal documents and information, and personal hygiene supplies.
Before a flood happens you can take action to prevent any damage to structures in the area. Make sure critical utilities like electric panels are elevated if possible.
Waterproof your basement and check your sump pump. Install a battery backup system in case there are power outages. A water alarm can be a great warning in case one of your systems fails. Clean out your gutters and downspouts. Anchor fuel tanks and move any furniture, valuables, and important documents to a safe place.
What to do During a Flood
Flash flooding is the most dangerous type of flood so it is important to take quick action. In this scenario do not wait to be evacuated or for instructions.
Simply get somewhere safe quickly as these can often occur even without the typical warning signs like storms and rain. Pay attention to areas you know to flood quickly like streams and canyons.
If there is flood warning evacuate and get to higher ground until you are told it is safe to return. If you have time and can do so safely prepare your home the best you can by moving things up. Disconnect anything that can be done safely and bring outdoor furniture inside or make sure it is secure. Turn off any utilities.
Keep in mind the ‘5 Ps’ of evacuation: people, prescriptions, papers, personal needs, and priceless items. This is a good reminder when you are feeling panicked and will cover the most important things.
If you are not able to get out and are caught in a flood remember these tips: keep children away from water, do not walk through moving water, avoid any water that is over your ankles. Don’t underestimate the strength and power of a flood and always remember “turn around, don’t drown”.
If you become trapped, call 911 and give your location. Get as high as you can, avoid closed attics, and only get on your roof if you have to. Signal for help.
Don’t Drive in Flooded Areas
Floods can be most deadly to careless drivers. Do not drive in flooded areas and if you come upon one turn around.
If you become surrounded by water abandon your vehicle and go to high ground. Six inches of water can cause loss of control in a vehicle including stalling. One foot of water can sweep away and float many vehicles. Two feet of water can carry away even bigger vehicles like trucks and SUVs. 50% of drownings caused by floods occur when a vehicle is driven into flood waters.
What to do After a Flood
It is important to remain vigilant after a flood and take certain precautions. Only return home after authorities have said it is safe to do so. Keep an eye out for debris like broken glass as well as venomous snakes and dead animals.
Don’t Wade in Flood Water
Flood water can also be contaminated with oil, gas, and other chemicals. Avoid wading in it. If you need to walk through debris use a stick to test for anything you can’t see.
Power lines can cause the water to be electrically charged and you may not be able to see them. If you see downed power lines call 911 or the power company and avoid them. Avoid any damaged areas unless you are helping clean up.
Be Wary of Flooded Structures
Listen for announcements from public officials about the safety of where you are going. Stay away from buildings surrounded by flood waters and only re enter your home if it has been deemed safe to do so.
Be very cautious about entering flooded buildings (including your home). Floods can create dangers that you can’t see including compromised foundations, mold, and electric shock. Make sure the power is turned off and call a qualified professional if you aren’t sure. Water and electricity are an incredibly dangerous combination so always be aware of where you are standing or walking.
Avoid using lanterns and matches as they can cause gas explosions with things you cannot see (use flashlights instead). If you turned off the gas, call a professional to turn it back on to make sure everything is safe.