A flash flood is a rapidly rising and rapidly flowing surge of water that results from runoff from excessive rainfall. While some floods might take several hours or days to develop, a flash flood may take only minutes, making flash floods particularly dangerous. They can destroy bridges, roads, severely damage buildings, move boulders, wash away automobiles and cause mudslides.
Two key elements contribute to the condition known as flash flooding - rainfall intensity and duration. Topography (the physical characteristics of the land, such as hills and valleys), soil conditions and ground cover also play an important role. Most flash flooding, however, is due to slow-moving thunderstorms, hurricanes or tropical storms.
For Accomack residents, tides also play an important role in possible flooding. Rainfall draining into ditches and creeks can flood an area if a rising tide is pushing the water back up into the creeks. The same type of flooding can also occur when strong winds push seawater back up into the creeks.
During periods of heavy rainfall, it’s important to listen to a weather radio or your local radio stations for flood information. Make sure you’re familiar with the following terminology:
- Flood Watch - A flood watch means a flood is possible in your area. Be prepared to act quickly and move to higher ground if needed. If you live in a vulnerable area, move your furniture and valuables to higher floors of your home or business, and put important documents in a waterproof container. Get your pre-assembled emergency supplies ready, and fill bathtubs, sinks and plastic bottles with clean water. Finally, fill vehicles gas tanks in case an evacuation notice is issued.
- Flood Warning - A flood warning means flooding is already occurring or will occur soon in your area. Be alert to signs of flooding, and if floodwaters are threatening your home, evacuate quickly to higher ground. Listen to local radio stations for local evacuation notices. If you are driving and come upon rapidly rising waters, turn around and find another route.
- Flash Flood Watch - A flash flood watch means that flash flooding is possible in your area. Be alert to signs of flooding and be ready to evacuate on a moment's notice.
- Flash Flood Warning - A flash flood warning means a flash flood is already occurring or will occur very soon in your area. Evacuate immediately - you might only have seconds to escape. Move to higher ground away from rivers, streams, creeks and storm drains, and do not drive around barricades. If your car stalls in rapidly rising waters, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground.
Reduce Your Risk
The following steps are recommended by FEMA to reduce your risk in the case of flooding:
- Learn your flood risk. Everyone is at risk from flooding, even properties that are not located within high-risk areas. Find out your relative flood risk right now — online at www.FloodSmart.gov “What’s Your Flood Risk.” Simply enter your property address to see your relative risk, find links to flood maps, and other flood insurance community resources. Insurance agents can also help assess risk.
- Ask an out-of- area relative or friend to be the “family contact” in case your family is separated during a flood. Make sure everyone in your family knows how to contact that person.
- Conduct a thorough home inventory. If your home is damaged in a flood, thorough documentation of your belongings beforehand will help you file a full flood insurance claim. Take photos or videos of your important possessions. You should also leave a copy of important documents with relatives or friends, or in a safe deposit box. Don't leave your only copy at home, where it might be destroyed. The Home Inventory section of this website contains a list to assist you. Also, computer software programs designed for electronically filing this information are readily available.
- Move irreplaceable personal possessions to the highest level of your home where they won’t get damaged. Put into waterproof containers if possible.
- Plan and practice a flood evacuation route with your family. Build an emergency supply kit to take with you and stay away from streams or areas where water covers the road.
Consider improvements to your home or property (often referred to as mitigation steps) to reduce the chances of a financial loss due to flooding. These activities range from raising the washer, dryer & water heater onto a platform in a basement or ground floor, to moving the fuse box from the basement or ground floor to an upper floor, to more rigorous methods such as elevating the entire house.
Visit www.FloodSmart.gov to learn about ways to lower your risk of sewage backup, electrical problems, basement or ground floor flooding, and other flood-related problems.
Keep your flood insurance policy current. Remember: your policy needs to be renewed each year, and your homeowner's insurance does not cover floods.
Even though there are nearly 2.7 million households in Virginia (2000 US Census), there are less than 92,000 flood insurance policies in effect throughout the state (data as of 5/31/2006).
If you live in a highest-risk area (special flood hazard area), you need to be covered by flood insurance. Fifty-two percent of households in the highest-risk areas of the state are financially protected with flood coverage. However, more than 16,000 homeowners lack this vital protection against the devastating effects of flooding.
You don’t have to live in a highest-risk area to be at risk for floods. Approximately 25 percent of all flood claims occur outside of a special flood hazard area, yet only 4.3 percent of Virginia households in low-to moderate-risk areas are covered with flood insurance protection.
If you don’t have flood insurance, talk with your insurance agent. There are low-cost Preferred Risk policies for people in low- to moderate-risk flood areas. Virginia residents can visit www.FloodSmart.gov or call 1-888-379-9531 to learn how to prepare for floods, how to purchase a National Flood Insurance Policy, and the benefits of protecting their homes and property against flooding.