What You Should Do if a Flash Flood Occurs

According to the National Weather Service, flash floods are abrupt; fast-moving floods often occur within three to six hours of heavy rainfall (NWS). A dam breach or mudslide can also cause a flash flood. It’s crucial to remember that everyone is vulnerable to flash floods because they might rain anywhere. However, according to the NWS, if you live near a dam or in a city, you may be more vulnerable to flash floods.

General flash flood safety tips

Because flash floods can strike without warning, it’s good to plan during dry periods. Consider making an evacuation plan and putting together an emergency “go bag” so you’ll be prepared to flee swiftly if a flash flood threatens your neighborhood. Make sure you and your family know the difference between a flash flood watch and a flash flood warning. A flash flood watch implies flooding is possible, whereas a flash flood warning means flooding is imminent or has already occurred, according to the NSSL.

Finally, you may protect yourself from a flood by getting flood insurance. If a flood destroys your home or valuables, flood insurance can help pay for the repairs. Keep in mind that your insurance may have a 30-day waiting period before it takes effect.

How to keep safe at home if you’re in the middle of a flood

If you’re at home when a flash flood occurs, the NWS recommends the following precautions:

  • Observe the evacuation orders: If local officials have issued evacuation orders before or during a flash flood, it’s critical to follow them because flash floods can occur.
  • Move to higher terrain as soon as possible: Get to higher ground as soon as possible if your home floods. However, you should avoid taking refuge in a closed attic because you could be trapped by increasing floodwater. Only go up on the roof if it’s essential, and once you’re there, call for aid.
  • Avoid interaction with floodwater: If floodwater enters your home, stay away from it. Avoid rooms where floodwater has touched or inundated electrical outlets or cords, including the basement. This is due to the possibility of electrical shock.

How to protect yourself in a car during a flood

If you’re driving and a flash flood is approaching or has already occurred, try to be calm and remember these Ready.gov tips:

  1. Driving around barricades is not a good idea: Do not attempt to drive around a barrier obstructing a flooded road. Instead, retrace your steps and seek out a different path.
  2. Driving over bridges over fast-moving water should be avoided: A bridge might be washed away by floodwaters with little or no warning. Avoid driving over a bridge if water is rushing swiftly beneath it.
  3. According to the National Weather Service, driving through floodwater is perilous, as it only takes 12 inches of water for a small sedan or SUV to float. It’s also a good idea to avoid driving through deep puddles. They can make risks such as a washed-out road or jagged debris appear shallower than they are.
  4. If you’re surrounded by fast-moving water, stay in your vehicle: Unless the water inside your vehicle rises, do not exit your vehicle if you’re surrounded by fast-moving floodwater. If water starts to rise inside your vehicle, jump out and onto the roof.

If you or your family is ever in doubt about their safety during a flood, remember to turn around, not drown, advises the NWS.

Before Flood Safety Tips:

Make a plan: Long before rain is on the horizon, make a plan for how your family will communicate, meet, and evacuate in the event of a flash flood emergency. How will you get out of your house if you need to? Who will be in charge of the children? If your family is split up, where will you meet? Printable templates are available from the American Red Cross to aid your discussion.

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You should also assess the flood threats to your house, workplace, and school and the routes that connect them. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood maps are great to start. (If you are in a flood zone, you should think about buying flood insurance.)

Pack your bag: It’s critical to have an easily accessible emergency bag packed with supplies if you need to leave your home quickly. Shelf-stable food, water or a portable filtration system, a change of clothes, a headlamp or flashlight with batteries, a phone charger, face masks, cash, and a first-aid kit should all be included. Don’t forget to bring food, leashes, and portable bowls if you have dogs. Birth certificates, identity cards, insurance policies, wills, deeds, and titles should all have “password-protected digital versions,” according to Ready.gov.

Dr. David Markenson, chief medical officer at American Red Cross Training Services, says this isn’t overkilled. “It’s evident that the human-nature side isn’t a concern,” he remarked. “It’s not going to happen to me,” many people believe.

During a flood, safety tips

Stay alert: If a storm is approaching or is already here, listen to local weather alerts on your phone, radio, or television. A battery-operated radio can be useful in the event of a power outage.

Be prepared to evacuate: If you think you’ll have to evacuate, grab any critical goods that aren’t already in your “go bag” — such as driver’s licenses, credit cards, medications, and important documents — and place them in a waterproof pouch. (It’s fine to use a plastic freezer bag.) Make sure your phone is charged, and unplug small gadgets if you have time, so they don’t be fried by electrical surges—transfer valuables to a higher level (if you have one).

If you live in a basement apartment, Julie Munger, founder of Sierra Rescue International, an organization that has taught swift-water rescuers for 35 years, advises being extra attentive when watching rainstorms. She advised going to a higher floor or evacuating to another area if you believed you were in danger. (Text SHELTER and your ZIP code to 43362 to find an emergency shelter.) The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advises against climbing into a closed attic because you may become trapped by rising floodwaters. Climb to the roof if necessary.


You must respond quickly if you find yourself under the worst scenario, with water rushing into your apartment, according to Ms. Munger. “Don’t wait, don’t grab anything,” she advised, adding that if you can’t get out, your only alternative is to “hope that the water doesn’t fill up the apartment.”

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