Stay Afloat: Strategies for Flood Safety

We know water is essential to life. It also has the power to cause great destruction. In recent years, you’ve probably noticed that you can’t open the news without a climate catastrophe story of some sort. Most on the rise are floods, which are responsible for more human casualties each year than any other natural disaster. But “natural” disaster may be becoming an inaccurate term for these events, as they’ve been shown to be exacerbated by human-accelerated climate change.

Just in the week of this writing, major floods from Texas to Brazil to Kenya have devastated lives and land in their areas, and those are just a few places recovering from flooding. And because of the changing climate, more floods and other natural disasters are occurring in unexpected places. It can feel overwhelming, but there’s a lot you can do to prepare for wild weather.

💦 Frightened By Floods?

Like any natural disaster, floods can be devastating and deadly. But like other dangers, the more you know and prepare, the safer your choices can be. 

A flood is an overabundance of water on land that is usually dry. When the water level increases above its bank, it spreads into surrounding, lower-lying areas and is absorbed by the earth. If the ground is not able to absorb it all, water will begin to rise, causing a flood. A flood can last days or weeks, or flash floods can occur suddenly, in minutes to hours. 

Some circumstances that might make the ground less absorbent are:

  • When the ground is already oversaturated with water (like after heavy rain) 
  • Ground that is very dry and hard (like in the desert or after a drought)
  • Nonporous ground surfaces (like concrete)

🌧️ Plan Ahead

Spring weather can intensify the chances of flooding. Knowing the conditions of where you are, and where you’re going, can help you assess the possibility of a flood. Look out for:

  • potential melting snowpack 
  • heavy rainfall
  • high ocean tides
  • sudden collapse of a dam or obstructing ice jam. 

Water will flow downwards to the lowest areas first (because gravity), so be sure to check the weather in surrounding areas as well. Even a storm miles away uphill from you can cause a flood where you are.

Luckily, GOES will alert you of any incoming natural disasters (like floods), associated risks, and tips for how to prepare.

🛑 Stuck In A Flood

Even with rigorous preparation, sometimes conditions surprise us. Remember these tips if you find yourself caught in a flood:

  1. Stay put: The water’s depth could change at any moment. If you cannot cross dry land, don’t try to wade, stay put or turn around! Even a few inches of flood water can knock an adult off their feet and carry them downstream.
  2. Don’t drive: Water as low as 6 inches can splash your car’s air intake and stall it. A foot of water can float your car or truck and carry it away. If there’s a lot of water on the road, especially if it’s rising, it’s best to avoid driving through.
  3. Get to higher ground: Try to traverse dry ground and get to a higher point, like a ridge or viewpoint, where water cannot reach.
  4. If you must: if you absolutely must cross a river, do it as safely as possible with these guidelines:

    • Take your time: It is important to find the best place to cross. Somewhere with more bends and wider and multiple channels are usually shallower. Standing waves can be a sign of a submerged object, so you’ll want to avoid those.
    • Face upstream, angling your body slightly downstream. This will minimize resistance.
    • Cross as a group, if you can. Lock your arms and have the strongest person upstream, breaking the current for the others.
    • Unclip your backpack straps so you don’t go with it if the water catches it.
    • Lean into the current and shuffle-step sideways. A walking stick, or another point of contact with the ground, can offer more stability.

🛟 Shore up your safety plan

The weather is getting wilder. With GOES, you’ll have everything you need to know about natural disasters, how to prepare, and what to do in real time.

Floods are responsible for more casualties each year than any other natural disaster. Learn more about flood safety and be prepared.
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