AVOID THE ONSLAUGHT!
DON’T FALL VICTIM TO A FLASH FLOOD.
Don’t fall victim to a flash flood.
The outdoors can be as nasty as it is beautiful. What might look like a great place for you to set up camp could become the worst decision you make in your lifetime. This is because, depending upon your geographical environment, forecasted weather conditions and topography of the local terrain, your seemingly ideal choice to pitch your tent and get some rest could be washed away due to an extremely powerful flash flood. The risk from flash floods is often the result of poor choices made when setting up camp in the bush or because of rash decisions made when encountering rising waters during extreme rainstorms in familiar areas.
Flash floods strike hard and fast, and it’s for this very reason that everyone, for their own safety, needs to know why flash floods occur and how to protect themselves from the onslaught of unstoppable liquid fury.
MORE THAN JUST RAIN
The key element that distinguishes a “flash” flood from a “regular” flood is the amount of time it takes to occur; typically, within a six-hour time span. This short time frame catches many people by surprise and, before they can properly react, it’s too late.
Most people attribute the creation of flash floods simply to heavy, persistent rainstorms— which is true. However, unknown to many, there are numerous other ways these torrential tsunamis can be formed.
The most common cause of flash floods is when heavy precipitation falls rapidly on either rain-saturated soil or extremely dry soil that lacks a high water-absorption rate. Other ways flash floods occur include volcanic activity, where glaciers melt rapidly from the intense heat, and the runoff flows down the mountainside and engulfs whatever and whoever is downstream.
In addition, hurricanes and tropical storms can unleash incredible amounts of rainfall in a relatively short timeframe, culminating in a “battering ram” of water that can overwhelm everything in its path. Some additional causes of flooding include thawing ice dams and manmade occurrences, such as dam failures or broken water mains.
The greater the combination of contributing factors that are present at one time and location, such as soil consistency, rainfall or melt-off volume, as well as the topography of the land, the greater the chances are for flash flooding to occur.
AVOID POTENTIAL PROBLEM AREAS
Exhaustion and tired feet can cause weary hikers to dismiss logical thinking and set up camp just about anywhere. This could be a huge mistake.
Flash flooding is not bound by geographical areas of the country. From dry desert canyons to hilly woodlands to snow-covered mountains, few settings are free from this deadly threat. In fact, more people die each year from flash flooding than from Mother Nature’s other deadly forces, including tornadoes, lightning strikes and hurricanes.
When setting up camp, there are warning signs to look for that can allow you to sleep comfortably and not find yourself bobbing down a river that wasn’t there when you went to sleep.
First, avoid gullies or bottleneck areas of a canyon. Fast-falling rain can quickly be diverted into a small funnel-like opening between the rock walls and create a highly pressurized stream of water, moving so fast that escape is virtually nonexistent.
Second, examine the ground and soil consistency. Is the earth clay like or saturated dirt? Clay doesn’t offer great water drainage so, during a harsh rainstorm, the water flows over the ground instead of being absorbed into it. Also, examine your chosen campsite. Do you notice ripples of dirt or sand nearby? This would indicate that nearby water sources, whether from adjacent lakes or rivers or being dropped downward by the slope of the landscape, regularly find their way to your very spot and eventually recede, revealing the noticeable patterns on the ground.
Third, if you’re near a body of water or even a dry stream, creek or river bed, check the shoreline for signs of high-water marks. It’s always possible for the flow to eclipse previous heights, but, at the very least, never set up camp below the high marks you can find.
SURVIVING THE RISE
Once a flash flood occurs, your chance of living through it depends on your willingness and ability to follow some basic logic and rules:
• If you are in your car when flood waters rise abruptly, get out and abandon your vehicle as soon as possible. No car, no matter its value, is worth risking your life to save. It can literally become your death trap.
• Vehicles weighing 1 to 2 tons can easily float away in just 1 or 2 feet of water. It’s hard to believe, but this situation can result in many deaths. People tend to imagine that their vehicles, as large as they might be, can fight Mother Nature.
• If you become trapped in your vehicle, and the water level rises to the doors, the exterior pressure could be too great for you to open them. If this occurs, roll down or shatter a window (hopefully, you carry a window-punch tool) and escape through it. The worst-case scenario would be that you, within your vehicle, become totally submerged underwater. If this occurs, don’t panic (yes, this is easier said than done, but you must try). Wait for the pressure to equalize between the inside and outside of the car. Then, open the doors and swim toward the rising bubbles, if visible.
… MORE PEOPLE DIE EACH YEAR FROM FLASH FLOODING THAN FROM MOTHER NATURE’S OTHER DEADLY FORCES, INCLUDING TORNADOES, LIGHTNING STRIKES AND HURRICANES.
• If you’re not in a vehicle, point your feet downstream and try to move across any structures or large pieces of debris you encounter. Being in the water only increases your chances of incurring injuries from debris slamming into you—or from unseen dangers below the water, such as potholes, electrical cables or sudden drops. You could find yourself completely submerged, severely hurt or electrocuted.
Your focus should be to get to higher ground and stay there until help arrives. By no means should you leave the safety of dry land or a secure manmade structure to try to swim for help or to help others stuck in the flow. You wouldn’t have the strength to keep yourself safe—let alone trying to secure another person.
NO CAR, NO MATTER ITS VALUE, IS WORTH RISKING YOUR LIFE TO SAVE. IT CAN LITERALLY BECOME YOUR DEATH TRAP.
AFTERMATH: MORE DANGEROUS THAN THE FLOODING
Just because the water intensity has let up—or, in some cases, the area nearby might be receding—it doesn’t mean your area is safe again. There are many precautions that must be taken during the aftermath of a flash flood.
• First and foremost, don’t go out on a sightseeing tour. Yes, many people venture throughout their neighborhood after a natural disaster to see the scope and power of Mother Nature, but it is highly advisable that you do not. Hidden dangers could be lurking anywhere, away from your sight or your ability to even notice anything out of the ordinary. But they’re there.
• Roads could be washed out. Dips or uneven ground under the surface of the water are perfect ways for you to sprain, twist or even break your ankle or leg.
• Downed power lines could electrify the water as you step through the murky remnants of nature’s fury. Deadly electric shock or even mild electrocution are very real possibilities.
Water is the life source for all living things. Yet, even as it sustains life, it can also take it away.
The various forms water takes are numerous, and flash flooding is just one. But it is truly a powerful one. As with all natural and even manmade disasters, the key to getting through them with minimal damage, loss or personal injury is to prepare as much as possible before such an occurrence takes place. Stock the proper supplies, create an evacuation route, and save personal paperwork on flash drives and cloud-based storage options.
The more you think about a disaster today, the less you need to worry when Mother Nature sends one your way tomorrow.
YOUR FOCUS SHOULD BE TO GET TO HIGHER GROUND AND STAY THERE UNTIL HELP ARRIVES.
Flash floods can start in an instant and wash away dirt roads and paths within minutes.
The best escape from dangerous floodwater is to get to higher ground as quickly as possible. A rooftop is one option. (Photo: Bigstock)
Below: Powerlines underneath the water after a flood can end your life quickly. Avoid walking through unclear stagnant water, and get to higher ground.
• Furthermore, when entering buildings that have been affected by flood water, you must be very careful when judging the stability of the structure and the overall damage that it has incurred. Remember, it isn’t only the damage sustained by the water, itself, but also the force with which it struck standing structures. The power of the flood could have easily rammed debris into the supporting walls and weakened the building overall.
• Ruptured gas lines and leaking flammable liquids might be present in your home or any building that you might enter. Therefore, it is best for you to avoid returning to your home until the proper authorities inspect it and declare it safe for you or others to do so.
• As strange as it might sound: If the flooding was extreme, local animal life might have migrated with the high-level water and could pose a threat to you or your family. Depending upon where you live, venomous snakes, alligators or other possibly dangerous animal life could become your neighbors immediately after a flood rolls through.
• Finally, never take the chance of drinking any water without boiling it first. The intermingling of sewage and other contaminants with normally drinkable water must be avoided at all costs. Numerous pathogens and foreign materials will get you sick; and being in the hospital during the aftermath of an intense flood is not a place you want to be.
Heavy rains can quickly increase normally calm or slow-running brooks or streams to frightful levels. Never try crossing violently moving water; you won’t get far before you get swept away.
Left: Even in just a few feet of water, your vehicle can float away with the current. Abandon your vehicle and try to reach higher ground quickly.
Right: Cars can become deathtraps during flash flooding. Leave your vehicle as soon as possible … before it becomes too late. (Photo: Bigstock)