Flash Flooding: Stay Safe

by Matt Solis


Please stay safe in the event of a flash flood. Photo: American Ratings Corporation, 2019

We’re grateful that El Niño conditions are finally beginning to arrive in the Bay Area. However, you should be aware that when rain meets drought-hardened earth, the likelihood of flash flooding increases exponentially. Being informed is the best way to stay safe this rainy season. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), most flash floods happen as a result of heavy localized rainfall. These floods can become raging torrents of fast-moving water that rip through river beds, city streets and valleys, sweeping everything with them. In 2014, flash floods resulted in nearly $2.5 billion worth of property damage (nearly double the damage done by hail, which is the second most destructive extreme weather event). Of more concern, flash floods are a leading cause of weather-related injuries and fatalities.

Here’s how to stay safe during a flash flood:

Turn Around Don’t Drown®
As many as two out of three flood-related deaths occur in vehicles. According to FEMA:

  • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and potential stalling.
  • One foot of water will float many vehicles.
  • Two feet of rushing water will carry away most vehicles, including SUVs and pickups.

If your car stalls in a flash flood, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground.

Evacuate your home immediately if you think you’re at risk or have been advised to do so. If you have time, shut off water, gas and electrical services before leaving. If you’ve been told to evacuate, text SHELTER plus your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: SHELTER 94954).

Never try to walk or swim through running water. Water that’s just 6 inches deep can knock over an adult. Don’t try to outrun a flash flood—immediately head to higher ground if rushing waters are coming your way.

Stay informed. Listen to local radio, subscribe to email and SMS weather alerts from the National Weather Service, and talk to neighbors to stay informed about the current situation.