Most of us have driven while it’s snowing. And I’m guessing just about all of us have driven in rain. It’s not always easy, but taking things a little slower usually results in a safe trip.
But what if you suddenly find yourself driving in a flash flood? That can be far more dangerous. Some motorists have actually drowned when a flood has swept onto a road on which they were driving.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), an average of 75 people die in the U.S. from flash floods each year.
And two-thirds of those deaths were people who had been in vehicles when they encountered the flash flood.
The key is taking precautions before it happens and knowing what to do if you’re suddenly caught in one.
What to do and what to avoid
First, always keep your headlights on when you’re driving in rain, even if you don’t think flash flooding is likely.
Avoid roads that could become flooded if there has been a significant amount of rain. How do you know in advance if a road might be affected?
Listening to local radio traffic reports is the first step, but you can also check websites for cautions and advisories, as well as monitor social media. Downloading a weather app on your smart phone is a good idea.
Taking an alternative route to your destination may be the only way to avoid a flooded road. Better to get somewhere late than not at all.
If you see ahead of you that water is covering the street, stop, turn around and find another way. Even if it doesn’t look deep. As the NWS says, “Turn around, don’t drown.”
It’s easy to misjudge the depth of floodwater, especially at night. It might be deeper than you think, and even a few inches of water on a roadway can stall out your car and cause serious damage to mechanical parts. Even if the water is not too deep, the road or bridge beneath it could have been compromised or washed out.
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 most vehicles. Two feet of water will carry away larger multi-axle vehicles, including SUVs and pickups.
To wade or not to wade
If you suddenly find your car surrounded by rising water, get out of the car right away and wade toward higher ground.
The NWS says not to wade through water because it might knock you down and drown you. But if my car is filling up with water, I’m getting out of it and taking my chances with wading.
Finally, if you had to drive through standing water and are now clear of it, don’t assume everything is fine again. Drive slowly and apply your brakes several times to make sure they are still working properly.
Flash flooding can be dangerous and even deadly. But staying calm and following these basic principles could save your life.