Flash flooding is something that can occur in all 50 states. While a flood can be bad for your home or business, a flash flood can cost you and your family their lives. Check out this article (and others like it) by ABC news from earlier today ‘Storms Flood Plains, Midwest, Killing 3, Forcing Evacuations‘. It states that the Blanco River in Texas “rose 26 feet in one hour and left piles of wreckage 20 feet high”. That is incredible.
A rainy day flashback
In August of 2009, this region experienced a rare rain event. I cannot exactly recall the precipitation totals, but I know that we received many inches of rain in a short amount of time. I was managing a Drainage Department at the time for a local government entity and had made preparations for the impending rain with my staff by checking infrastructure choke points. I remember being in the truck when the rain hit and being shocked at how hard it rained…and kept raining. During the rain event, you could not see outside the windows. But once it started to subside, I could see how quickly the waterways were coming up. By the time the rain was finished, nearly all the roads in the entire region were blocked. Only a handful of roads remained open. I think at some point, I estimated that at least 3/4 or more of the roads had a significant amount of water on them. Enough to prevent travel. That’s a lot of water!
Be careful driving
This seems like common sense…right? As I surveyed the damage, and still rising flood waters, I worked with my staff to block off some of the critical roads. Water was now flowing rapidly over some of the bridges / roads at the bridge and were not safe to cross. However, people were still attempting to drive through these areas. We did what we could and worked with the City and County, but there were not enough road closed signs, barricades, or safety cones to completely stop 100% of the traffic.
- Interesting side note: people get out and move the traffic barricades all the time. You would be surprised at how many times I have seen that. It happens in construction zones for street repairs, during times of roads closed for floods or special events. Don’t be dumb. The barricades are there for a reason!
I checked out various sites, but Progressive.com has a few ‘Flood Driving Safety Tips‘ that are useful. From all the websites I reviewed, it seems to be a general consensus that in 12 inches of moving water, an automobile can be swept off the road.
Additionally, besides the obvious fast-moving water that could knock you down or move your car, that water can have debris, such as full-sized trees, that can do the same. I have seen large trees floating down small creeks during a flood event. The image at the start of this blog is worth a thousand words. Those trees are on the overpass.
Flood waters are dirty
Back to our flood story from 2009: I found people wading out into the flooded streets to clean the storm drains. They thought the storm drains were merely blocked with debris, preventing them from draining. A couple of people were up to their waist in flood water and were fishing around with a garden rake trying to find the storm drain. I informed all of them that the storm drains could not push the water off the road because the outlets (at the nearby creek) were covered over with fast-moving flood waters. I also asked that they consider getting out of the water so they did not get hurt.
Think about what can be in the water. Untreated sewage, chemicals, oils, and more can all be present. Make sure you get cleaned up after being in flood waters. As you can see in the photo, I am wearing rain gear and boots (I am standing in someone’s yard…see the green grass under the water?). Lots of people wade out into flood water in flip-flops and shorts.
The flood finale
No matter what storm comes rolling through, flash floods can always occur. If you are in a low area or next to a creek, you should be paying attention to the weather; you may need to evacuate. Or if you live downstream of a dam, watch the warnings in the news for a possible dam failure. If you do not have to head for higher ground, stay where you are for a while. Being on the road during a flood event is a dangerous place to be. Getting home safe to your family is the most important thing you will do all day!
Have a great Memorial Day…thank you to everyone that helps keep us safe!