Driving Tips for Spring Rains on Flooded Plains

Warmer-than-average temperatures could increase the flood risk in certain parts of the country, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Snowpack is heavy in the West and northern plains...already saturated soils will not be able to absorb the increased water,” said Tom Graziano, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s Office of Water Prediction.

Parts of Idaho and North Dakota are especially vulnerable, he said.

As little as a foot of moving water can sweep away a small vehicle. And safety officials urge drivers to remember that whenever they encounter a flooded roadway.

“The biggest message we stress with flooded streets is ‘Turn around don’t drown,’” said Chris Vaccaro, public affairs for the National Weather Service. “Whenever there’s flood coverage on the television news they broadcast drivers going through the water, but it’s not a good idea."

“Don’t plow ahead when confronted with water, turn around and take an alternate route.”

One of the most common mistakes? Underestimating the depth of water, according to the National Weather Service.

As little as a foot of moving water is all it takes to sweep a small vehicle. It takes half that to knock a person off their feet, Vaccaro said.

Below are some tips from the National Weather Service on how to handle flooded roadways and flash floods:

  • Never drive or walk in floodwaters. As little as 12 inches of rushing water can carry away a small vehicle and two feet of moving water can wash away most vehicles.
  • Turn around, don’t drown. Motorists are urged not to risk it. Make a U-turn and head for safety.
  • Pay attention to the signs. Yellow caution signs are placed in flood-prone areas, while pink signs are placed by road crews at the site of an existing flood.
  • Keep an emergency kit with flares and a flashlight in your trunk. A fully charged cell phone is invaluable in an emergency.

“The simplest things can be so important in an emergency or road breakdown in bad weather. A flashlight. An emergency space-blanket. Simple first-aid items,” said Jason Grubard, marketing manager for DC Safety.