When you think of dry climates like Texas, the first kind of disaster that comes to mind are tornadoes or maybe even thunderstorms. These are the dramatic images that stick in the mind when you’re watching the news.
Ironically, the most dangerous disaster – flash flooding – is often the last thing that is thought of. I know I never thought about it myself, until I had the experience of being almost caught in one. Those who read this article can glean useful lessons about what to do during a flash flood from my many mistakes.
Lesson 1: Watch the skies.
I was driving my husband to work in North Dallas. The weather was such that driving his motorcycle would have been dangerous, and we noted the thunder and the wind as we drove to work together. At one point in the drive, one cloud seemed to be literally pouring from the sky. It looked like a waterfall, and though we didn’t know it at the time, it was indicating that the creeks and rivers would rise.
Lesson 2: Know where potential flood areas are.
Texas is normally full of creeks and riverbeds. You can see them as you drive by parks and low-lying areas on the sides of the freeways and side roads in the Dallas area. Normally they’re dry. When a heavy thunderstorm or rain comes, all these dry creeks and riverbeds fill. Sometimes they overflow their banks and spill onto the roads. Cars that drive into these roads can get swept away, and without quick action, the car occupants can drown. The weathermen on the news in Dallas are forever warning the locals and visitors never to drive into deep water on the roads or under bridges. This advice may have saved my life this week.
Lesson 3: Don’t ignore danger signs.
The rain was still heavy as I headed home from dropping off my husband at work. Since an accident had tied up traffic on the freeway, I decided to take the side roads home. That worked well, until I reached some low-lying areas closer to home. The lightning was frequent and powerful, and the skies were dark, but road conditions continued to be okay, so I didn’t think anything of the warning in the skies.
Lesson 4: Water levels rise very quickly
As I drove, I noticed that the wind and rain was picking up, and I slowed my speed accordingly. It became more and more difficult to see, even with the windshield wipers going full speed. My entire concentration became focused on the headlights of the car directly ahead of me, as it was all I could see. Soon I began hearing the pinging sound of hail, and looked around me for signs of a tornado. I couldn’t see anything but water.
As I prepared to turn a corner, I was surprised by substantial splashing coming from the other side of the road as other cars were going by. We were all driving in 4-5 inches of water. I began to worry for my brakes and my engine that was starting to chug and labor harder.
I called my husband at work, and he suggested that I pull over and wait for the storm to pass. I agreed, but it became harder and harder to find high ground. In an industrial park area, I crossed another road and the water was deeper still. I felt the resistance against the car. If I had opened the car doors at that time, the car would have flooded.
Lesson 5: Don’t panic.
I turned another corner, and pulled into a local restaurant parking lot. Calling my husband again, I was crying and shaking, and he helped talk me down. The rain was still coming down in sheets. I couldn’t get through to my kids at home, and the stress of all this was making me hyperventilate.
Once I got calm and the rain began to calm down, I cautiously pulled out on the road again. I had to cross over a bridge and make a U-turn at the bottom in order to turn around. At the bottom of the bridge, two cars were stuck in the flood, and the waters were swiftly rising. I managed to make the turn and go back up the bridge and back onto the right road.
Lesson 6: If you have electric windows on your car, roll down a window before the car conks out. Even if you get wet. An escape hatch could save you.
But the rain picked up again, and I struggled to keep control of my car. The deep water was the same color as the road, and I would splash through another deep puddle and try to work my way through it, all the while praying that my car would keep moving.
Lesson 7: Bridges are particularly dangerous areas.
The road I wanted to take to get home was blocked off, and I realized it would be. It was a bridge next to a deep creek that would undoubtedly overflow. I turned the other way to get back on the freeway, and drove through another creek that had overflowed. The water was spraying over the top of the bridge and onto the road, and beginning to rise into the parking lot of the gas station next door. I managed my panic and got onto the freeway.
As I went down the freeway, I was stunned. Even on the sides of the freeway, water levels were rising at a rate I’d never seen in the six years I’ve lived here. Exiting off the freeway, there was a rapidly flowing, deep stream of water to get through. Rolling the window down in case I needed to get out, I drove through, and managed to make my turn.
Lesson 8: Don’t assume you’re safe in a residential area.
I finally managed to turn into my housing development, only to be turned around when an alley behind some houses blocked my way. A car was stalled in the floods, but the gentleman inside was okay.
Lesson 9: Don’t count on 911 help unless your life is in complete and total jeopardy.
I called 911 for assistance, but as soon as the operator found that I hadn’t actually been stranded in the floodwaters, he told me I was on my own. Disasters like this will tax the local fire and rescue crews to their limits, making them unable to help you unless you’re about to be swept away in flood waters. Fortunately for the stranded gentleman, a gracious couple in a truck pushed his stranded car out of the flood waters and up to higher ground.
Lesson 10: Either drive a 4-wheel drive truck with a lot of clearance, or prepare yourself to get stranded on the high ground for several hours while the waters recede.
Fortunately I was able to make my way home on a higher road finally, completely in shock from the experience I’d just gone through. When I went to pick up my husband at the end of the day, there was almost no sign that anything had happened. These Texas storms happen fast. The water rises fast, and recedes just as fast. Being in a hurry can cost you dearly, so it’s a good idea to think about what you would need to do to be prepared at home and away, in case of flooding.
There’s my near-disastrous day of flash flooding. I learned a lot, and I hope you did too. Turn around – don’t drown!