How to Protect Yourself and Your Home from Flash Floods
Flash floods are among the most dangerous natural disasters. As the name suggests, flash floods are floods that occur very quickly, typically due to rain that is too heavy for the ground to absorb fast enough. It only takes six inches of moving water to knock someone down and a vehicle can be swept away in just two feet of moving water. Flash floods can also cause significant damage to homes and buildings. The majority of deaths caused by flooding in the U.S. are caused by flash floods.
One of the reasons flash floods are so dangerous is because they can happen almost without warning and immediately threaten your life and property. They can also happen anywhere as it only takes quick, heavy rainfall to create dangerous flooding conditions. This makes it very important for all homeowners and business owners to understand how flash flooding can happen and how they can prepare for the possibility to protect themselves and their property.
In this guide, we will discuss how flash floods form and the dangers they pose, as well as the steps you can take to protect yourself and your property from flash floods. Being proactive and having safeguards and a plan in place will help you minimize flood damage to your property and protect yourself and your family. If your home or building is affected by flood damage, you need to call a water damage restoration professional right away.
Understanding Flash Floods
Flash floods often happen too fast to react to them in real time. This is why it is important to be proactive in protecting your home from flash floods. However, by understanding and recognizing the main causes and triggers of flash floods, you can anticipate a flash flood and take the appropriate actions.
The following are the main causes of flash floods:
- Intense rainfall from thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tropical storms
- Stalled or slow-moving thunderstorms
- Overflowing rivers
- High tides and coastal storm surges
- Breaking dams or levees
- Rapid snow and ice melting
Flash flooding can occur quickly, sometimes in a matter of minutes. The flood water tends to be fast moving water in a flash flood, and it likely contains a fair amount of debris. The speed of the water makes these floods very destructive as they can tear out trees, severely damage homes and buildings, cause mudslides, and easily sweep cars away. Flash flooding is also one of the deadliest natural disasters and accounts for the majority of flood related deaths.
While flash flooding can happen anywhere that experiences rain that falls faster than the ground can absorb it, there are areas that are more susceptible to flash flooding:
- Mountainous streams and rivers: If streams and rivers in the mountains overflow, the water can quickly run down the mountains and flood lower-lying areas.
- Urban areas: Urban areas have more buildings and concrete and less soil to absorb heavy rainfall which increases the risk of flash flooding.
- Low-lying areas: Low-lying areas, such as areas at or below sea level, are vulnerable to flash flooding because there is nowhere else for water to drain.
- Storm drains: Heavy rainfall can overwhelm storm drains and cause them to flood.
- Culverts: Culverts can become overwhelmed by excessive rainfall which leads to flooding in the surrounding areas.
Having an understanding of the risk and nature of flash flooding will help you better protect yourself and your property. In the next sections, we will cover the steps you should take to stay safe from a flash flood.
If there is a possibility of dangerous severe weather in your area, it is always best to stay informed. The National Weather Service provides up to the minute updates that you can see for your exact location so you can track the changes in the weather. You can watch or listen to the local news or use weather apps to get alerts. If you have a smartphone, you will get severe weather alerts without downloading an app.
The National Weather Service issues three levels of alerts when it comes to flooding and other types of severe weather: advisories, watches, and warnings. It is important to understand whet each of these alert levels mean so you can assess the threat and react accordingly:
- Flood advisory: A flood advisory is issued when there is flooding occurring that is more of a nuisance than a threat to lives and property. This can include minor flooding of streets and flooding in areas with poor drainage.
- Flood watch: Flood watches are issued when the current and/or developing weather pattern makes it possible for a flood to occur. A flood may not be occurring or imminent when a watch is issued, but people in the affected areas should be alert and ready to act if flooding does occur.
- Flood warning: A flood warning is issued when flooding is imminent or already occurring. Flood warnings are usually more specific to the areas that are directly affected.
Create an Emergency Plan
When serious flash flooding occurs, you may be forced to evacuate your home and head to higher ground. The best way to ensure that you are prepared is to create an emergency plan and practice it with your family so that everyone can evacuate safely if necessary. Your emergency plan should include the following:
Flash floods happen very quickly which means that your family may not be together when they occur. In order to ensure everyone’s safety, you should have a communication plan in place. You can do this by creating a family group text or pairing family members to make them responsible for each other. No matter how you decide to do it, you must have open communication with your family through the disaster.
Designate a Meeting Place
You should choose a place for your family to meet should you get separated during the evacuation or need to evacuate from different locations. For flash floods specifically, you should choose a meeting place that is safe and on higher ground. The place can be the home of a family member or friend or a public place like a store or restaurant.
Emergency Kit with Essential Supplies
Flash floods can be severe enough to knock out power and make it difficult to access necessary resources like food and water. You should have an emergency kit ready that contains supplies you may need in case you are without power or access to essential supplies. Your emergency supply kit should include the following:
- Food and water: You should have a supply of food and water for at least a few days. This should include bottles of water and non-perishable food items, as well as supplies like a can opener and some utensils. If you have pets, make sure to include pet food as well.
- First aid supplies: Make sure to include a basic first aid kit as part of your emergency kit. The first aid kit should include sterile bandages and dressings, prescription medications, pain relievers, allergy medications, anti-bacterial wipes, thermometers, and more.
- Hygiene supplies: You should also include hygiene products like soap, shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrush, toilet paper, garbage bags, and moist towelettes.
- Important documents: It is important to save important documents in case of a major flood including personal documents like driver’s licenses and social security cards, property records, financial documents, insurance papers, and medical records.
- Clothing and bedding: The kit should include clothing for each person for a few days as well as blankets, warm clothing, sturdy shoes, and even a tent.
- Tools: There are many useful tools that should be included in the kit including flashlights, batteries, a hammer, army knife, battery powered radio, wrench or pliers, duct tape, and cellphone chargers.
Protecting Your Home
After creating an emergency plan to keep yourself and your family safe, you need to take steps to protect your home in case of a flash flood. Taking the following steps will help you better protect your home from the devastation of a flash flood:
- Elevate utilities and electrical systems: The operation of the electrical system and other utilities such as plumbing and mechanical systems are often centered in the lower regions of a home or building. You can protect your utility systems from flooding by elevating them to higher floors.
- Install flood-resistant barriers and shields: There are flood-resistant barriers and shields available from hardware stores that can help you protect vulnerable areas from flooding. Flood barriers and shields can be put in front of doors, windows, and garage doors to prevent water from seeping in. You can also use sandbags to protect doorways and basement windows.
- Clear gutters and drains: Keeping the gutters and downspouts clear of debris should already be a regular part of your home maintenance to avoid water damage. Ensuring that the gutters are cleaned will allow for the proper drainage of rainwater a safe distance from the home. This will prevent the water from pooling around your foundation, even with heavy rainfall.
Secure Valuable and Important Documents
Flash floods create an emergency situation and if you must evacuate, you will only have enough time to grab essential supplies. Unfortunately, you cannot save everything, and you will have to leave your valuables behind. However, you can ensure the safety of your valuables by following these tips:
- Store important documents in waterproof containers: While some of your important personal documents will come with you if you need to evacuate, you may not be able to carry everything. You should consider putting documents like house deeds, car titles, birth certificates, degrees, insurance papers, medical records, and financial records in a waterproof safe or container on an upper floor.
- Move valuable items to upper floors: All valuable items such as electronics like TV and stereo equipment, jewelry, artwork, and other items with monetary or sentimental value should be moved to upper floors where they are less likely to be impacted by flooding.
- Considerations for insurance coverage and documentation: Typical homeowners’ insurance does not cover damage to your home or personal items from flooding. You need to purchase separate flood insurance to get coverage for damage to your home and personal items from a flash flood.
It is difficult to predict when a flash flood or other weather event will force you to have to evacuate your home. Because of this, you should already have an evacuation plan in place and practice it with your family so everyone knows what to do in such an event. When creating an evacuation plan, make sure you include the following:
- Evacuation routes and shelters: Your plan should include routes your family can use to escape the home and get to safety. Make sure your plan has several possible routes in case one of the routes is unsafe due to the flooding. Practice using each of the escape routes with your family. You should also designate a shelter for each evacuation route, whether it be the home of a friend or family or a public meeting place.
- Prepare an emergency bag with essential items: Each family member should have a bag packed with important items such as clothing, first aid and hygiene supplies, tools, and any other supplies they may need. Having a bag already packed will make it easy for each person to grab it on their way out.
- Secure home before leaving: While it is important to evacuate quickly, you have to make sure to secure your home on the way out. Securing doors and windows will help minimize the damage from the flooding and protect from animals, vandals, and other unwanted intruders in the aftermath. Your evacuation plan should include drills to quickly secure doors and windows before an evacuation.
During a Flash Flood
Once flash flooding has been confirmed in your area, you need to stay alert. Depending on exactly where the flooding is and the severity, you may be able to wait it out at home, but you should be ready to evacuate if necessary. Doing the following will help you take the right actions during a flash flood:
- Follow instructions from authorities: The National Weather Service and FEMA will provide updates on conditions and advise whether people in certain areas should evacuate. Pay attention to the instructions from these organizations and evacuate quickly if told to do so.
- Move to higher ground: If forced to evacuate, seek higher ground and avoid flooded areas at all cost. The routes in your emergency plan should lead to higher ground and away from the flood. Make sure you take the planned routes that are the safest and not affected by the flooding.
- Do not drive through flooded roads: If evacuating by car, avoid driving through roads that are flooded. Driving through flooded roads can be very dangerous as it only takes two feet of moving water to sweep a car away.
After a Flash Food
After the flooding has occurred and the recovery efforts have begun, the safest thing for you to do is to stay where you are until you know what is going on. You need to know that it is safe around where you have taken shelter and that it is safe to return to your home before you leave. Make sure you take the following steps in the aftermath of the flood:
- Do not return to your home until the authorities have deemed it safe to travel back to your area.
- Once you return home, thoroughly document the damage caused by the flooding with photos and videos to help your insurance claim.
- Call your insurance company immediately to report the damage and start a claim.
- Contact a water damage restoration professional that can remove the flood water as well as dry and restore your home.
Flash Floods FAQ
What are the Four Flash Flood Safety Rules?
When a flash flood occurs in your area, following these four rules will help ensure your safety:
- Monitor Weather Alerts: Pay close attention to weather forecasts and warnings issued by local authorities. Flash foods can develop rapidly, so being aware of potential risks can give you more time to react and seek safety.
- Avoid Flooded Areas: Never attempt to walk, drive, or swim through floodwaters. Even shallow-looking water can be deceivingly strong and fast-moving, capable of sweeping people and vehicles away. It only takes a few inches of moving water to knock you off your feet.
- Seek Higher Ground: If you are in a flood-prone area or receive a flash flood warning, immediately move to higher ground. Flash floods can fill low-lying areas within minutes, so do not wait for the situation to escalate.
- Do Not Drive Through Flooded Roads: Avoid driving through flooded roads, as the depth and strength of the water may be unpredictable. If your vehicle gets caught in rising water, abandon it and move to higher ground. Many flash flood-related deaths occur due to people attempting to drive through floodwaters.
What are Three Tips for Surviving a Flash Flood?
Surviving a flash flood requires quick thinking, preparedness, and knowledge of what to do in such a situation. Here are three essential tips for increasing your chances of survival during a flash flood:
- Stay Informed and Be Prepared: Stay informed about weather conditions and pay attention to flash flood warnings issued by local authorities. Have a weather radio or a reliable source of information to receive updates, especially if you live in a flood-prone area. Create an emergency preparedness plan for yourself and your family, which includes knowing the safest evacuation routes and establishing a meeting point in case you get separated.
- Seek Higher Ground: If flash flooding affected your area, seek higher ground immediately and avoid low-lying areas. Flash floods develop quickly, and the water can rise rapidly, so find higher ground as soon as possible. When looking for higher ground, do not enter the flood water. It only takes six inches of moving water to knock down a person and two feet of moving water to carry a car away.
- Stay Calm and Call for Help: If you find yourself trapped by rising water, stay as calm as possible. Call emergency services immediately if you have a means of communication. Signal for help by using a whistle or any bright-colored clothing or objects you have with you. If possible, move to the highest point possible and wait for rescuers to arrive.
Where do Flash Floods Occur the Most?
Flash floods occur the most in low-lying areas at or below sea level, canyons, urban areas, mountainous streams and rivers, storm drains, and culverts. If a flash flood is imminent, make sure you avoid these vulnerable areas.
Call a Professional for Flood Damage Restoration
Flash floods are dangerous and destructive natural disasters that can happen virtually any time there is heavy rainfall. However, you can minimize the damage to your property and protect yourself and your family by staying alert, having an evacuation plan in place, protecting your home and your valuables, and taking the right safety precautions during and after the flood. Being proactive and ready to respond before a flood ever takes place will not only limit the damage to your home but may also save your life.
If you return home to find that it has been damaged by the flooding, call a water damage restoration professional right away. These professionals specialize in flood damage cleanup and can remove flood water from your home. They will also dry and restore the affected areas and materials to help restore your home or building to its pre-flood condition.
Calling a water damage restoration professional as soon as possible will help you limit the damage and get your property back on track.