By Fire Chief Sam DiGiovanna, East County Magazine’s “In-House Fire Chief”
September 5, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – We continue in our summer “monsoon season” which can quickly and unexpectedly bring flash floods. More people lose their LIVES in floods than in any other weather-related event. 80% of flood deaths occur in vehicles, and most happen when drivers make a single, fatal mistake - trying to navigate through floodwaters.
• Watch for the following signs:
o Unusually hard rain over several hours
o Steady substantial rain over several days
o Rains in conjunction with a spring thaw
o A monsoon or other tropical system affecting your area
o A weather report
o Water rising rapidly in streams and rivers
• In hilly terrain, flash floods can strike with little or no advance warning. Distant rain may be channeled into gullies and ravines, turning a quiet stream into a rampaging torrent in minutes. Never camp on low ground next to streams since a flash flood can catch you while you're asleep.
• DO NOT DRIVE THROUGH FLOODED AREAS! Even if it looks shallow enough to cross. The large majority of deaths due to flash flooding occur with people driving through flooded areas. Water only a foot deep can displace a 1500 lb. vehicle! 24” of water can easily carry most automobiles! Roads concealed by water may not be intact.
• If the vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground. Rapidly rising water may engulf the vehicle and its occupants and sweep them away. Remember it's better to be wet than dead!
• Do not allow children to play around streams, drainage ditches or viaducts, storm drains, or other flooded areas!
• Be especially cautious at night. It's harder to recognize water danger then.
• Don't try to outrace a flood on foot. If you see or hear it coming, move to higher ground immediately.
• When hiking, follow these steps:
o Wait for everyone in the crew to arrive at stream, and make a determination to cross.
o Do not walk through a flowing stream on foot where water is above your ankles.
o When walking through or on rocks or logs over a stream, loosen pack buckles so if you fall you can easily get away from your pack and it will not drag you under.
o Wait for everyone to cross before continuing (in case the last person needs assistance).
• Be familiar with the land features where you live, work, and play. It may be in a low area, near a drainage ditch or small stream, or below a dam. Be prepared!
• Stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest statements, watches and warnings concerning heavy rain and flash flooding in your area, report it to the National Weather Service.
• The National Weather Service will issue a Flash Flood Watch when heavy rains may result in flash flooding in a specific area. In this case you should be alert and prepare for the possibility of a flood emergency, which will require immediate action. A Flash Flood Warning will be issued when flash flooding is occurring or is imminent in a specified area. If your locale is placed under a warning, you should move to safe ground immediately.
• Campers/hikers should always determine if local officials, such as park rangers, post local cautions and warnings. This goes along with -- in those areas where it's required -- completing any local tour/entrance/trip plan.