The Dangers of Flash Floods and What to Do to Stay Safe
Flash floods can happen in and downstream of any region that receives more rain than usual. What is hard to predict is exactly when the floods will happen, how severe they will be, and where they will be strongest. Sometimes people are caught off guard by floods that started miles and miles from where it rained, and others are affected by floods that occur with little to no notice because of massive amounts of rainfall.
The Arizona desert is a prime spot for flash floods. The town of Mayer and the Cold Springs swimming area in the Tonto National Forest experienced severe flash floods in 2017, and many people lost their lives because of it. Mud from floods can be strong enough to wipe away roads and trails and carry houses, cars, and people along with it. Some flash floods are strong enough to bury 40-foot-wide paths as they move. Recently, in California, mudslides caused over 20 deaths after heavy rainfall struck a region already compromised by fires.
Precautions You Can Take for Flash Floods
- First, know your weather reports. If the region is known for flash flooding, stay tuned to local emergency stations to know whether you could be at risk. Even if the sun is shining and there isn’t a cloud in sight, flash floods can start miles away in another region that is experiencing a downpour.
- Carry a cellphone or satellite phone if you are in areas without good reception. This allows you to check local reports for dangers and also call for help if you are caught in a flash flood.
- Get to high ground. As you hike, camp, or swim, look around for high spots and be prepared to move there quickly if you start to notice signs of flash flooding. Signs include streams growing in strength, loud water sounds, and rainfall.
- If you are swimming, bring certified flotation vests with you. Always put life vests on children and weak swimmers, no matter the conditions. It’s also wise to take CPR and First Aid courses before you venture out into the wilderness.
- Watch local reports and prepare to evacuate immediately. Flash floods can hit towns and cities as well, not just the wilderness. If the ground and vegetation has recently been weakened by fires, the area is more prone to flash floods. Many people are caught in floods because they don’t deem the risk serious enough to leave when they first hear reports.
- Never attempt to drive into water, because it might be deeper and the current might be stronger than you realize. It’s a better idea to get to high ground than to try to drive through a strong current. Just six inches of water can sweep you and your vehicle away.
- Learn about local emergency plans. Know where to go if you need to get to higher ground, how to call emergency services, and how to pack an emergency kit. Keep the kit stocked and ready for immediate evacuation.
- Get flood insurance if your property is in a designated flood zone or has been recently compromised by fires.
- Stay away from bridges. Although they appear to be higher ground, they could be unsafe because the flood underneath could weaken the supports.
- Don’t camp or park along streams or even dry river beds during heavy rainfall, because this is the first place the water will begin to rise.
- If you are inside your house and surrounded by flash floods, disconnect electrical devices to avoid being shocked. You can also disconnect gas and electricity at the main switch or valve if you are instructed to do so by emergency personnel. Move to the highest part of the house, even the roof if you have to, and call 911 for help.