Flash Floods: America’s Silent Killer

Metro Atlanta Flooding 2009Photo: Tina Hemerlein-McDonald

Practically every community in the United States has experienced some type of flooding at one point or another because of long spring rain fall, severe thunderstorms or winter snow thaws, but all flooding is not alike. Some floods develop gradually, sometimes over a period of days or weeks
and cause little to no damage at all, but then there are violent deluges of
rushing water called flash floods.

Flooded Subdivision Metro Atlanta 2009Photo: Tina Hemerlein-McDonald

A flash flood is more often than not caused by abrupt, excessive rainfall that sends a body of water such as a river or stream quickly out of its banks. Often this takes place in a short amount of time, only few hours or less. Most frightening is the rapidity with which the water rises. Flash floods can also be caused by ice jams on rivers along with the winter or spring thaw; occasionally a dam break will also lead to a flash flood especially downstream. With all of these, the relentless incursion of water finally causes an unstable overflow to begin, powerful enough to sweep away everything and anything. This powerful flow of water can even level buildings and knock bridges off their piers, causing total destruction of all property in its path.

Flooded Subdivision Powder Springs, GAPhoto: Tina Hemerlein- McDonald

The sudden nature of the flood makes it extremely dangerous, and it is the number one weather-related cause of deaths in the United States. According to the U.S. National Weather Service in 2005, the national 30-year average for weather-related deaths showed that 127 people died from floods compared to 73 people from lightning, 65 people from tornadoes and 16 people from hurricanes, making it by far the deadliest weather phenomenon.

Flooding Metro Atlanta 2009Photo: Tina Hemerlein-McDonald

So how can you prepare for a floor or even flash flood? Well really, you cannot. All you can do is be conscious of the weather and take notice when there is especially heavy rainfall. Listen to weather reports for flood information and be knowledgeable of what the terminology is.

Flood 2009 Powder Springs, GAPhoto: Tina Hemerlein- McDonald

Here are a few helpful terms and information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

Flood Watch:
Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or
television for information.

Flash Flood Watch:
Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to
NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.

Flood Warning:
Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so

Flash Flood Warning:
A flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately

Metro Atlanta Flooded SubdivisionPhoto: Tina Hemerlein-Mcdonald

Other important tips and information from FEMA:

If you have to leave your home, remember these evacuation tips:

  • Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
  • Do not drive into flooded areas. If flood waters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be quickly swept away. Remember the saying “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”.

The following are essential points to remember when driving
in flood conditions:

  • It takes a lot less water to reach the bottom of most passenger cars then you might think. Just six inches of water can flood your car, causing loss of control, and even possibly stalling.
  • Most cars will float in – remarkably enough – just twelve small inches of water.
  • Most vehicles including sport utility vehicles and pick-ups can be swept away in only two feet of moving water.