Weather week focus is flooding

Published 12:51 am Thursday, February 20, 2014

Severe Weather Awareness Week continues in Alabama, with today’s focus on flooding and flash flood safety.

Covington County EMA Director Susan Harris said, while some areas of the county are more prone to flooding than others, everyone should be on guard when heavy rains come.

“Flash flooding can happen anywhere,” Harris said. “Everyone needs to be aware of that. But, we do get some areas that always flood in the south part of the county on that end of the lakes and rivers.”

According to information from the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama residents fall victim to flooding and flash floods every year.

General river flooding occurs when heavy rains and runoff fill river basins with too much water too quickly. Flash floods occur suddenly and usually within hours of excessive, heavy rainfall.

Flash floods can become raging torrents, ripping through neighborhoods, streets or valleys and destroying whatever is in the path of the water.

When conditions are favorable for flash flooding, the National Weather Service will issue a flood watch, highlighting flood potential in and around a specified area, which is usually several counties.

Officials say now is the time to start thinking about a plan of action if water begins to rise or a flash flood warning is issued.

When a flash flood warning is issued for a smaller, more specific area, action must be taken quickly. There may only be seconds to move to higher ground.

During periods of heavy rains, officials recommend staying away from known flood areas such as stream beds, drainage ditches and culverts. Move to higher ground if flooding threatens the area.

For those who live or work in known flood-prone areas, remaining alert during periods of heavy rain is key to staying safe.

Harris said people should never drive cars into water of unknown depth. Most flash flood deaths occur when people drive their vehicles into floodwaters.

“We’ve had some instances of that in the past,” she said. “Even with minor flooding, you don’t know what is under the water.”

Harris said floodwaters can hide rocks, trees, trash and other types of debris that can be dangerous to someone in the path of the water. Water is a powerful force, Harris added, and should never be underestimated.

Should a vehicle stall, officials recommend abandoning it immediately and seeking higher ground. Floodwater may rise quickly and could cover the vehicle and sweep it away. It is important to be especially cautious at night, as it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

Staying out of flooded areas is also important. The water may still be rising and it is usually very swift. A rapidly flowing stream or ditch can sweep a person off his or her feet or sweep a vehicle downstream. Children are especially vulnerable and should not be allowed to play in or around flowing water. Water can also run off streets and parking lots very rapidly, causing natural and man-made drainage systems to overflow with rushing floodwaters.