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How to Safely Drive During a Flash Flood Warning

driving in a Flooded RoadYou don’t have to live near an ocean, lake, or river to be subjected to flash flooding. Even desert areas like southern Arizona have their share of flash floods, brought on by heavy rains that have nowhere to go except raging down what used to be dry arroyos or washes only a few moments before. And every town and city across the country is vulnerable to storm drains and sewer systems overflowing and/or backing up because of too much rain for them to handle or debris clogging them.

Flash floods may be one of the most dangerous weather-related phenomena because they can happen anywhere. The water rises so fast and flows so swiftly that roads can be particularly dangerous. Vehicles on them can be swept away almost before drivers realize what’s happening. However, protecting yourself from a flash flood is simple, as long as you stay alert and drive carefully. All you have to do to arrive safely at your destination is to remember to take a few basic safety precautions. Here are the top three rules for safe driving during a flash flood warning.

Rule 1. Never Drive Through Flood Water

Just because flood water looks shallow doesn’t mean it is. It’s impossible to judge its depth, especially at night. Additionally, the pavement or ground under it may already have been compromised and there could be a deep hole where a flat surface used to be.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

  • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and potential stalling.
  • One foot of water will float many vehicles.
  • Two feet of rushing water will carry away most vehicles, including SUVs and pickups.

Your kids have undoubtedly heard it from one of the local weathermen at a school visit: “Turn around, don’t drown!” This is the slogan that the National Weather Service has campaigned on for years to prevent flash flooding deaths. Find another route rather than proceeding through floodwaters.

Rule 2. Get Out ASAP if Your Car Submerges

While it’s dangerous to get into flood waters, it’s even more dangerous to remain in a car that’s submerging. Stay calm. Release your seatbelt. Open your window and escape through it. If your window won’t open, try to break it with anything handy. Remain on the car roof as long as possible. If your car gets hung up on a tree or other heavy object, try to get onto that instead of your car roof.

If you can’t break the window, wait for your car to fill with water while keeping your hands securely on the door handle. Do not panic. When the car is almost full, take a deep breath, open the door, and swim to the surface. If you’re swept away by the flood waters, try to keep your feet pointed downstream and direct your body over rather than under obstacles. Do your best to avoid any downed power lines. If possible, grab onto a tree or any other heavy object you come to and stay there until rescued.

Rule 3. Never Park or Camp on River Banks or Near Washes

While it may be scenic to camp on a river bank or near a dry wash in the Desert Southwest, don’t do it. Heavy thunder storms can pop up at any time. Carry a battery-operated weather radio or install a weather app on your phone so you can check local weather before going to sleep at night.

By learning these three rules, you’ll be as safe as possible if and when you’re faced with a flash flood emergency. But remember, the best rule for surviving flood waters is not to get into them in the first place.