By Fire Chief Sam DiGiovanna
As firefighters we know the power of water. We have some of the best apparatus capable of pumping thousands of gallons of water per minute during fires. In this capacity, water saves lives and property—it is essential to protecting our communities.
But there’s a flip side to this power—water is also extremely destructive. Flash floods are the number one storm-related killed in the United States. In the last three years, flooding has taken the lives of more than 100 people in the U.S. each year, and the numbers are growing as climate change increases the number of days with extremely heavy precipitation.
80% of flood deaths occur in vehicles, and most happen when drivers make a single, fatal mistake – trying to navigate through floodwaters.
Do you know what 6 – 12 and 18 add up to? Danger!
Six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet.
Twelve inches of moving water can move a small car.
Eighteen inches of moving water can move a large vehicle, truck or SUV
- Watch for the following signs:
Unusually hard rain over several hours
Steady substantial rain over several days
A monsoon or other tropical system affecting your area
A weather report
Water rising rapidly in streams and rivers
- In hilly terrain, flash floods can strike with little or no advance warning. Distant rain may be channeled into gullies and ravines, turning a quiet stream into a rampaging torrent in minutes. Never camp on low ground next to streams since a flash flood can catch you while you’re asleep.
- DO NOT DRIVE THROUGH FLOODED AREAS! Even if it looks shallow enough to cross. The large majority of deaths due to flash flooding occur with people driving through flooded areas. Roads concealed by water may not be intact. Turn Around Don’t Drown!
- If the vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground. Rapidly rising water may engulf the vehicle and its occupants and sweep them away. Remember it’s better to be wet than dead!
- Do not allow children to play around streams, drainage ditches or viaducts, storm drains, or other flooded areas!
- Be especially cautious at night. It’s harder to recognize water danger then.
- Don’t try to outrace a flood on foot. If you see or hear it coming, move to higher ground immediately.
- When hiking, follow these steps:
Wait for everyone in the crew to arrive at stream, and make a determination to cross.
Do not walk through a flowing stream on foot where water is above your ankles.
When walking through or on rocks or logs over a stream, loosen pack buckles so if you fall you can easily get away from your pack and it will not drag you under.
Wait for everyone to cross before continuing (in case the last person needs assistance).
- Be familiar with the land features where you live, work, and play. It may be in a low area, near a drainage ditch or small stream, or below a dam. Be prepared!
- Stay tuned to your local news or the NOAA Weather Radio for the latest statements, watches and warnings concerning heavy rain and flash flooding in your area, report it to the National Weather Service.
- Campers/hikers should always determine if local officials, such as park rangers, post local cautions and warnings. This goes along with — in those areas where it’s required — completing any local tour/entrance/trip plan.