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So You Think You Would Survive a Flash Flood?

Updated on January 26, 2017

Come Hell or High Water: Surviving a Flood


Sink or Swim

History is packed with catastrophic disasters. Through the centuries, natural disasters have stolen millions upon millions of lives. These catastrophes strike when we least expect them. What's the worst type of natural disaster? There's a long list of possibilities, but The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) feels that flash floods rank high on the list of worst-case scenarios. When it comes to surviving a flash flood, you need more than swimming lessons.

Extreme Floods Caught on Tape

Heavy Rain
Heavy Rain | Source
Melting Snow and Ice
Melting Snow and Ice | Source
Broken Dams
Broken Dams | Source

Causes Behind Flash Flooding

Flash floods have a huge variety of causes. Heavy rainstorms and rapidly thawing ice and snow are common causes. Some floods occur due to human causes; broken dams, leaking reservoirs, and faulty pipes are all potential causes.

Regardless of where you live, flash floods are still a risk. Most flash floods occur in dry, desert-like terrain. When large quantities of water suddenly hit dry, hard-packed soil, water isn't absorbed properly. Excess water begins quickly pooling on the surface.

Tropical climates also get their share of extreme floods. Tropical storms and hurricanes bring thundering sheets of rain and quickly rising ocean tides. In 2015 alone, 12 tropical cyclones, 11 severe storms, and 6 hurricanes hit the Atlantic coast. Locals know to expect a surplus of water every year during storm season.

Even cold, arctic climates such as Alaska don't escape the risk of floods. Shifting and collapsing glaciers often result in extreme landslides and raging flood currents. Rivers and ocean tides can rise quickly from thawing ice and snow. It's no coincidence that many Alaskans regard their boats as their favorite source of transportation.

Flash Floods by the Numbers

6 Inches of Water
60% of Flood Deaths
82 Deaths
7.96 Billion Dollars
Loss of control over your car
Occur in or near a vehicle
Average number of yearly flood fatalities
Average cost of yearly flood damages
Sources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service USA Today News Service

What Would You Do?

How would you respond If you found yourself in a flash flood?

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Head for High Ground

If authorities recommend evacuation, pack a well-supplied "go-bag" and head for an evacuation center. If no evacuation center is available, head for higher ground well away from possible flood sites. Leave quickly to avoid becoming trapped on flooded roads. Driving on flooded roads is extremely dangerous. Even a few inches of water can make travel tricky if not impossible.

Heed the Warnings!

Although not every flood comes with adequate warning, we should heed the warnings when they're available. Your local weather channel and news stations give frequent weather updates. If flood conditions are expected, authorities will work hard to give early warnings. Never Ignore these warnings! Even if a flood is unlikely, always take these warnings seriously. During heavy storms, keep an eye on the news for flood alerts in your area

Creating Your Evacuation Plan and Emergency Kit


Having a well-thought-out evacuation plan and an emergency kit is critical for staying safe during even the most sudden flood. This evacuation plan helps you stay calm and confident regardless of your circumstances. Some important things to consider for your plan:

  • Where's your safest location (evacuation center, high ground, etc.)
  • If you're separated, where will you try to meet?
  • Do you have non-perishable foods, fresh water, and first aid supplies stocked?
  • Do you have a well-working generator, batteries, and flashlights?
  • Are you familiar with CPR and other first aid techniques?

The Benefits of Flood Insurance

If you live in a well-known flood plan or area with frequent flood risks, consider investing in flood insurance for your home. Even mild floods can potentially cause huge property loss. Experts estimated that flooding from Hurricane Katrina caused damage exceeding 150 billion dollars. Although you may not be able to save your home and possessions from a flash flood, flood insurance makes rebuilding far easier. Check with your insurance company and see what flood protection they offer. An investment today may save you thousands of dollars in damage later.

So You Think You'd Survive?

Flash floods are tricky disasters. With so many types and potential causes, it's not always easy to stay prepared. Arm yourself with a detailed evacuation plan and well-stocked emergency kit for your home or car. By far, staying calm is the biggest key. Panic makes every disaster far worse. If you find yourself trapped by flood waters, take time to examine your surroundings. Get out and up to higher ground as quickly as possible. Wait for assistance from first responders; do everything you can to keep safe while you wait. If all else fails, keep your swim skills on standby.

Leave your Survival Story and Tips!

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    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 15 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      "So You Think You Would Survive a Flood?"

      Interesting article on flash floods, but the title is a bit broad. What about other kinds of floods: regional, global?