A flood can change a life in a flash

  • Published
  • By Robert Kaschak
  • 452 AMW Emergency Management

It may seem odd to discuss floods in the middle of the summer, but the reality is every year people die in flash floods. It is considered a silent killer because the events are sporadic and usually do not involve large numbers of people. Last evening, while watching the news, I saw the aftermath of a flood in Arizona which claimed the lives of 9 people. Heavy rains near the Cold Springs swimming hole caused the flooding and swept the family away with 1 person still missing. Like so many flooding events, it came up quickly, and they never had a chance to take evasive action. Frightening as this sounds, it is common in the southwest, especially in the desert areas. In this day and age, many of us get notification on our phones of areas where flash flooding will occur. Having been caught in a torrential downpour on my way home from Vegas, I realized just how dangerous this rapid infusion of water can be on a desert scape.  I think it would be appropriate for everyone to take a moment to understand and establish awareness for the possibility of flash flooding.  Given our topography and the inability of our soil to absorb moisture, the threat is very real and can occur anywhere at a moment's notice. Some education on this subject will be helpful; so, I would like to pass along some critical information.


Flash flooding can be caused by extensive rainfall from severe thunderstorms, sudden thawing of ice and snow as well as human activities such as urban development, destruction of natural wetlands and deforestation. A flash flood is a rapid flooding of geomorphic low-lying areas: washes, rivers, dry lakes and basins. Since desert sand does not soak up water quickly, heavy rains can produce flood conditions very quickly. Dry channels, ditches and lake beds will fill rapidly and the water can be strong and violent--sometimes creating a wall of water 10 to 30 feet high. Remarkably, more people drown in the desert than die of thirst (source: USGS). It is never a good idea to camp around ditches or dry creeks even if it does not look like rain. Desert thunderstorms come on quickly and without warning and can uproot trees and move boulders. In the event of a flash flood, move to higher ground as fast as you can. if in your car¸ pull over and put on your hazard lights until the rain has passed. If the rain continues and rises up to the car, abandon the vehicle and move to higher ground on foot. Best bet for surviving a flash flood is to stay alert and anticipate its arrival. Pay attention to weather reports and be alert for thunder in your area. Speaking of weather reports, here are a few weather terms you should understand. Flood Watch - flooding is possible; Flood Warning - flooding is occurring or will occur soon; Flash Flood Watch - flash flooding is possible; Flash Flood Warning - flash flooding is occurring; Urban and Small Stream Advisory - flooding of small streams, streets, and low-lying areas is occurring. This information is a standard part of all weather forecasts, especially when the threat of thunderstorms exists in the area.


The following are some safety tips from the Ready.Gov website:


  • Turn Around, Don't Drown! Avoid walking or driving through flood waters.

  • Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down, and 1 foot of water can sweep your vehicle away.

  • If there is a chance of flash flooding, move immediately to higher ground. Flash floods are the #1 cause of weather-related deaths in the US.

  • If floodwaters rise around your car but the water is not moving, abandon the vehicle, and move to higher ground. Do not leave the vehicle and enter moving water.

  • Avoid camping or parking along streams, rivers, and creeks during heavy rainfall. These areas can flood quickly and with little warning.


To add to the above, do not go in standing water or attempt to drive through it if unfamiliar with the area. Do not try to use electrical outlets after a flood unless approved by officials and only drink bottled water until it is deemed safe by officials to drink tap water.


Find out if the area you live in is prone to flooding. Check with the city's emergency management office if you don't know. They will be able to give you suggestions on preventive measures to put in effect. As always, do a little research to get some ideas. Make a plan and ensure all family members understand what they need to do. While we cannot prevent flooding from happening, we can certainly minimize the damage by being conscious of the threat and implementing measures to ensure safety and survivability for yourself and loved ones. Yes, life can change in a flash, but it doesn't have to be catastrophic. The preparation and actions you take can make all the difference.  It may turn out to be a disastrous event, but it doesn't have to be a tragic one.  The time to prepare is now.