The single worst decision you can make in a flash flood is driving your vehicle into floodwaters of unknown depth. It's easy to misjudge the depth of floodwater, particularly at night. Sometimes the bridge or road masked by floodwater may have been undermined or completely washed out.
In some cases, the flash flood event occurs over such a localized area, say one part of one county or city, that driving conditions may go from dry roads to high water in a matter of a few miles.
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 floodwaters of unknown depth. As the National Weather Service has campaigned for years: "Turn around, don't drown!"
If you are stuck in your vehicle underwater, you need to act quickly: - Find a pocket of trapped air, usually against the rear window or roof.
- Roll a window down slowly, take a deep breath and be ready to swim.
- If the window won't open, break the window with a rescue tool (Swiss Army knife, for example).
Don't Wade Through Flood Water, Either
If floodwater is powerful enough to float and/or trap your vehicle, trying to wade through it is also a bad idea. Just 6 inches of flowing water can knock you off your feet. If you slip and fall face first, you might drown before you come to. This is a particularly dangerous situation for babies and small children.
By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
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