If you know the story about Noah, you know what happens after 40 days and nights of rain: some serious problems for land-based travel. But how much trouble can there be for drivers with a lot less than 40 days of it?
Plenty. Under the right conditions, roadways can flood within just a few hours. Intense or slow-moving thunderstorms, steady rain when creeks, rivers and streams are already at high levels, and even light rain on top of melting snow – all can cause flooding. In fact, no place in North America is immune from flooding, and it can occur at any time of year.
Worse, it doesn’t take much water to get a motorist in trouble. According to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA):
• Just six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and stalling.
• A foot of water will float many vehicles.
• Two feet of rushing water can sweep away most vehicles, including sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pick-up trucks.
Yet, because roadway flooding in any given area happens infrequently, American drivers may be less prepared for it than for any other weather-related hazard.
Consider the following:
• Flooding is the number one storm-related killer – not tornadoes, not severe thunderstorms, not winter storms.
• More than half of the approximately 100 Americans killed by floods each year died after being caught in vehicles in floodwaters and swept away.
A particularly tragic case occurred in 2002, as recorded by the National Weather Service. A young father was driving home after work with his two children, ages 3 and 1, in a 4 by 4 pick-up truck. Heavy rains had caused widespread flooding, and he approached a low water crossing.
Instead of taking an alternate route that would have added 20 minutes to his trip, he chose to save time and plow on through. But the water turned out to be deeper and swifter than he thought, and the truck was swept downstream. The man survived, but his children, sadly, did not.
Whenever there’s water on the road, drivers should use extreme caution. Water may be deeper than it appears, and calm surfaces may not be indicative of how fast it’s moving or how quickly it may get deeper. Your best bet: keep your vehicle out of the water, move to higher ground and avoid damage to your vehicle.