Getting Ready for Floods & Flash Floods

April 29, 2011
FEMA | www.ready.gov

Getting Ready for Floods & Flash Floods

Flooding is the nation's most common natural disaster. Flooding can happen in every U.S. state and territory. However, all floods are not alike. Some can develop slowly during an extended period of rain, or in a warming trend following a heavy snow. Others, such as flash floods, can occur quickly, even without any visible signs of rain. It's important to be prepared for flooding no matter where you live, but particularly if you are in a low-lying area, near water or downstream from a dam. Even a very small stream or dry creek bed can overflow and create flooding.

Know Your Risks, Know How to Stay Safe

  • Find out if your home is at risk for flood and educate yourself on the impact a flood could have on you and your family. FEMA's Flood Insurance Study compiled statistical data on river flows, storm tides, hydrologic/hydraulic analyses, and rainfall and topographic surveys to create flood hazard maps that outline your community's different flood risk areas.
  • Most homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. Talk to your insurance provider about your policy and consider if you need additional coverage.
  • The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) can help provide a means for property owners to financially protect themselves if additional coverage is required. The NFIP offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters, and business owners if their community participates in the NFIP. To find out more about the NFIP visit www.FloodSmart.gov.
  • More people lose their LIVES in floods than in any other weather-related event. Eighty percent of flood deaths occur in vehicles, and most of these fatalities occur when drivers make a single, fatal mistake -- trying to navigate through flood waters. Do not to drive through flooded areas even if it looks shallow enough to cross. Water only a foot deep can displace a 1500 lb. vehicle; 24” of water can easily pick-up most automobiles and sweep them downstream!

Step 1: Get a Disaster Preparedness Kit

Get an Emergency Supply Kit, which includes items like non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries. You may want to prepare a portable kit and keep it in your car. This kit should include:

  • Copies of prescription medications and medical supplies;
  • Bedding and clothing, including sleeping bags and pillows;
  • Bottled water, a battery-operated radio and extra batteries, a first aid kit, a flashlight;
  • Copies of important documents: driver's license, Social Security card, proof of residence, insurance policies, wills, deeds, birth and marriage certificates, tax records, etc.

Step 2: Make a Plan

Prepare your family

  • Make a Family Emergency Plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.
  • Plan places where your family will meet, both within and outside of your immediate neighborhood.
  • It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members.
  • You may also want to inquire about emergency plans at places where your family spends time: work, daycare and school. If no plans exist, consider volunteering to help create one.
  • Purchase a flood insurance policy if you do not already have one or review your current insurance policy to ensure your home and contents are adequately covered. Visit FloodSmart.gov to learn more about individual flood risk, explore coverage options and to find an agent in your area.

Step 3: Be Informed

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a flood hazard

  • Flood Watch: Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information
  • Flash Flood Watch: Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
  • Flood Warning: Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Flash Flood Warning: A flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately.

Understand Some of the Most Frequent Causes of Flooding:

Heavy Rains: Several areas of the country are at heightened risk for flooding due to heavy rains. The Northwest is at high risk due to La Niña conditions, which include: snow melts, heavy rains, and recent wildfires. And the Northeast is at high risk due to heavy rains produced from Nor'easters.  This excessive amount of rainfall can happen throughout the year, putting your property at risk.

Flash Floods: Flash floods are the #1 weather-related killer in the U.S. since they can roll boulders, tear out trees, and destroy buildings and bridges. A flash flood is a rapid flooding of low-lying areas in less than six hours, which is caused by intense rainfall from a thunderstorm or several thunderstorms. Flash floods can also occur from the collapse of a man-made structure or ice dam.

Spring Thaw: During the spring, frozen land prevents melting snow or rainfall from seeping into the ground. Each cubic foot of compacted snow contains gallons of water and once the snow melts, it can result in the overflow of streams, rivers, and lakes. Add spring storms to that and the result is often serious spring flooding.

New Development: Construction and development can change the natural drainage and create brand new flood risks. That's because new buildings, parking lots, and roads mean less land to absorb excess precipitation from heavy rains, hurricanes, and tropical storms.

Levees & Dams: Levees are designed to protect against a certain level of flooding. However, levees can and do decay over time, making maintenance a serious challenge. Levees can also be overtopped, or even fail during large floods, creating more damage than if the levee wasn't even there. Because of the escalating flood risks in areas with levees, especially in the mid-west, FEMA strongly recommends flood insurance for all homeowners in these areas.

Tropical Storms and Hurricanes: Hurricanes pack a triple punch: high winds, soaking rain, and flying debris. They can cause storm surges to coastal areas, as well as create heavy rainfall which in turn causes flooding hundreds of miles inland. While all coastal areas are at risk, certain cities are particularly vulnerable and could have losses similar to or even greater than those caused by the 2005 hurricane, Katrina, in New Orleans and Mississippi.  When hurricanes weaken into tropical storms, they generate rainfall and flooding that can be especially damaging since the rain collects in one place. In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison produced more than 30 inches of rainfall in Houston in just a few days, flooding over 70,000 houses and destroying 2,744 homes.

Information courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Photo by Justin Horrocks and courtesy of istockphoto.com

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