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Flash Flooding: How Serious Is It?

Updated February 17, 2012

By WeatherBug Meteorologists

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A flash flood is a sudden rush of water into low-lying areas, usually caused by heavy rain or a dam break. When the ground becomes over-saturated, additional water will begin to flow downhill, sweeping away anything in its path.

WeatherBug Meteorologist Rachel Peterson discusses flash flooding in this exclusive WeatherBug Video.

This powerful surge of water can be so strong that just 6 inches of water can sweep you off your feet, and only 2 feet of water is needed to carry away most automobiles.

There is little you can do to prepare for flash floods other than to be aware of the weather and understand where flash flooding can occur. Most flash flooding occurs in a matter of minutes or hours, making it the top weather-related killer in the United States. Remember the safest course of action is to always head for higher ground.

On May 30, 1889, Johnstown, Pa., experienced the worst flash flood-related disaster in U.S. history. After heavy rains, a dam broke bringing a 36 to 40 foot wall of water through the city. Some 2,200 people died during this flood.

Here are few flash flooding tips:

  • When a Flash Flood Watch, Warning, or Advisory is posted you need to take precautions. This includes understanding where possible flash floods may take place and evacuation routes to take in the event of an imminent flood.

  • In the event you find yourself in flood waters, head for higher ground.
  • If you are in your car, never try to drive across flooded roads. Always turn around and drive away from the flooded area. More than 50 percent of flood-related deaths involve people in vehicles.
  • Take the time to consider what you would do during a flood, so you are prepared when a flood occurs.
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    Story Image: Image courtesy of WeatherBug user John Spelich of West Farmington, Ohio.

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