How To Survive A Flash Flood

Flood waters may not look all that threatening on TV, especially if you’re a skilled swimmer. But flash floods are actually incredibly dangerous, and they can strike with little to no warning. This is what you should do if you or your vehicle gets swept away by the raging waters.

Illustration by Angelica Alzona.

Awareness and prevention is always going to be your best chance of survival. Flash flooding can occur without obvious visual cues like clouds and heavy rain, so sign up for local weather alerts, and be sure to check local forecasts if weather starts to look a little questionable. A flood “watch” means flooding is possible in your area. A flood “warning” means flooding is already occurring and you should be ready to evacuate if things get bad. It also helps to know what spots are most likely to flood in your area. Take note of canyons, drainage channels, streambeds and other low locations. Flood insurance is also a good idea if you live in areas prone to flash flooding. Just make sure you acquire it sooner rather than later as it may take a while for it to kick in.

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How to Survive If You’re on Foot

As soon as you receive word of a flash flood, immediately head for higher ground and stay put until help arrives. If you see floodwaters, follow the NOAA’s advice and “turn around, don’t drown”. That means avoiding all moving water, even if it seems to be very shallow. Just 15cm of moving water can trip you up and knock you over. You could hit your head, break a bone, or worse, get swept away into much deeper, faster-moving water. Anything deeper than your ankles is bad news, especially at night when it’s much harder to see.

If you have no choice but to walk through water, go where the water is shallow and isn’t moving, then use a sturdy stick to check the depth as you walk, as well the firmness of the ground underneath. Mud and other slick surfaces can also easily topple you over. If you have children with you, carry them and keep them out of the water at all times if possible. As you make your way to higher ground, avoid touching or getting near any electrical equipment since you’re probably wet or standing in water. And if floodwaters have reached your home, do not use your home’s power.

If you get swept away by floodwaters, Desmond Johnson of Utah’s Unified Fire Authority’s Swift Water Rescue team suggests you grab or climb onto something as soon as you are able. As you move through the water, float backwards on your back so you can push…

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