Many people still have to venture out on the roads, even if there’s a flash flood watch. We have obligations like school and work that keep us driving through sub-optimal weather even when it would be safer to stay home.
What if, despite watching the weather, you and your family become trapped? With flash floodwaters rising around your car and filling the roads, you have to act quickly. What’s the best way to handle the urgency of the situation?
I have faced this. I’ll share what to do in this situation.
Turn around. Don’t drown
According to the National Weather Service, flash flooding can happen nationwide. It is also the number one weather-related killer in the United States. On average, 86 people per year die because they attempted to drive through floodwaters, and unfortunately, that number is increasing.
It takes as little as six inches of water for a vehicle to get swept away.
According to FEMA:
– Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and potential stalling.
– A foot of water will float many vehicles.
– Two feet of rushing water will carry away most vehicles, including SUVs and pickups.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, water 1 foot deep typically exerts 500 pounds of lateral force on a vehicle.
Once your vehicle is floating, the floodwater becomes your steering wheel. If that water is moving, your vehicle could be swept away, tipped on its side or flipped.
Rising water can enter your vehicle in a manner of minutes, even seconds.
The best advice we can give is to never drive through flood waters of unknown depth. As the National Weather Service has campaigned for years: “Turn around, don’t drown!” (source)
Some people risk destroying their vehicles and potentially losing their lives by driving through floodwaters. It’s a scary experience to come across rising water in the road during a rainstorm, not knowing if you’ll stall out. It’s not worth the risk.
My own experience with driving through a flash flood
Thankfully, I’ve never stalled out even though I have driven through flooded roads caused by flash floods. Flooding is so common in my area, it’s constantly a talking point in our local elections. The water in my area accumulates in the low lying portions of the streets as it rains.
One time, I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic during a very heavy rainstorm. As I approached an intersection on my way home, I noticed cars had pulled up on the sidewalk on both sides of the road. And then, up ahead, I saw the giant pool of water glistening beneath the streetlights. The intersection was flooded under the overpass. There was nowhere for me to pull over and traffic was shoving me forward. My baby was screaming in the back seat. It was terrifying. I remember desperately wishing that I had trusted my instinct earlier during the heavy rain and pulled into the mall parking lot to go inside and wait it out.
The traffic around me forced me to drive through the flooded intersection or risk an accident. There was nowhere to pull over as other cars had already pulled up on the side of the road and sidewalk trying to stay out of the water. They blocked me in. I was stuck in my little Chevy Cobalt with a wailing 6-month-old in my back seat. Against my better judgment, with big trucks sitting on their horns behind me, I drove through.
Sure, I could have parked it at the light and just stayed where I was despite the major road rage behind me. But in that situation, I decided to go ahead and drive through. I ended up being able to make it through the flooded intersection without stalling or flooding out. Barely. In the end, I felt I could drive through this water because I was familiar with the roads and my area. I knew about how deep the water must be and it was not flowing water.
However, driving through that flooded intersection could have ended very badly for me. I would never recommend that someone do this. It scared me. That was the day that I decided wasn’t going to put myself or my family in that position again. I now have a game plan for shelter-in-place in case of flash flooding in my area so I don’t have to face driving through dangerous roads during a flash flood.
Just a note about people on the roads during a flash flood: Adrenaline seems to take over. Road rage and rash behavior increase exponentially even compared to rush hour traffic. It’s absolute insanity on the roads and terrifying to navigate through. Keep this in mind and keep your wits about you if you’re ever caught on the roads in a flash flood.
What to Do If You’re Driving During a Flash Flood
Here are three things to keep in mind you find yourself in a similar situation.
1. Do not drive through water.
This is extremely dangerous and not worth it. I remember last year watching someone else do this. I watched a friend ruin her vehicle driving down the flooded road to get to her child’s school. I watched in horror as she drove down the road with water above her tires – and rising – as she drove.
Sure enough, she stalled out in front of the school. She ended up having to make extremely expensive repairs to her vehicle. But she was lucky. She and her family are safe. I also saw, that same day, high-water rescue trucks from the National Guard driving into deep water on flooded out roads to rescue people who were in stalled, flooded out cars. The people whom the National Guard rescued had driven into the water and not been able to get their cars out. Instead, they became trapped in the floodwaters in their vehicles.
People drown every year by driving on flooded roads. Don’t do it.
2. Find a safe place to park.
If you experience a heavy downpour while you’re driving and fear that you’ll be caught in a flash flood, or you see water on the road head, pull over as soon as possible.
Park in a safe place. Look for an elevated parking lot, preferably with a business that would allow you to use the restroom. Stay there and wait until the water recedes to continue your journey. If it’s really bad, seek out a parking garage and go to a high level. Park and wait it out.
3. Have a bag with emergency supplies in your vehicle.
Many preppers have get-home bags in their cars, but what if you’re just stuck until floodwaters recede?
Take for example those stuck on the I-10 during Imelda. People were driving along the interstate and became trapped there. There was flooding ahead and behind them. They had to stay where they were on the highway. Some were stuck for 3 days before they were able to get off the highway. Some had to be rescued by emergency vehicles.
Another example of this was the freak snowstorm in Georgia that left motorists stranded overnight.
With this scenario in mind, I’ve prepped my car. In addition to my get-home bag, I have a case of water in my car and extra food for me and my kids. I also keep a change of clothes for me and one for each of my children. I’m not taking any chances. You shouldn’t either.
4. Worst case scenario, here’s what to do if you’re stuck in your car in floodwater.
Find the pocket of air – this will usually be near the roof or at the back window. Break your window using a survival tool (you have a survival tool on you, right? This one fits on your keychain and this one is good to have in your center console.). Take a deep breath, break the window and get ready to swim. Try to swim at an angle toward safety – it’s very difficult to swim perpendicular to rushing water. Be alert for anything sticking up out of the water that you might be pushed into.
Have you ever dealt with a flash flood while driving?
Have you ever had this experience? Did you drive through the floodwaters or did you wait it out? Share your experiences and advice in the comments below.
About Jenny Jayne
Jenny Jayne is the mother of two wonderful boys on the Autism spectrum and is passionate about Autism Advocacy. She is a novelist who writes Post-apocalyptic fiction and a freelance writer. Her first novel is coming soon to Kindle eBooks near you. Her guilty pleasures are preparing for hurricanes, drinking hot coffee, eating milk chocolate, reading romances, and watching The Office for the 50th time. Her website: https://jennyjayneauthor.wordpress.com/