Flood Preparedness: Coping with the Rising Waters

Avatar Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
Flood Preparedness: Coping with the Rising Waters

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When the snow in the mountains starts to melt, the rivers swell and there is flooding in the low lands.  And while that is not a desirable situation, it is quite common and therefore – in some areas – expected.  But what about the snow melt following a large storm or unseasonal torrential rains?  Floods can occur then too, and unless you live on a hill or away from streams and lakes, you need to be prepared.

Those of us that live in the Pacific Northwest have just experienced one of the biggest snow storms since the mid-eighties.  Back then, I lived in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue at an elevation of 1000 feet.  This meant that while everyone else had six or seven inches of snow, I had twenty.  It took over a week to thaw and even then, we had a miserable tundra on our street for days upon days.

Then, like now, there was a huge snow melt as the temperature inched up.  All that water had to go somewhere.  Yep.  You got it.  The streams became raging rivers and the rivers became rushing torrents of white water.  Roads were flooded, bridges washed out and for many, misery prevailed.

As, preppers, it is easy to think of a flood as someone else’s problem.  But truly, as a member of your community, you need to be aware of the risk and, as with everything else, be prepared.

Flood Preparedness

Flood Waters

Floods are one of the most common and widespread of all natural hazards. Some floods develop over a period of days, but flash floods can result in raging waters in just a few minutes. Water runs off steeper ground very rapidly, causing natural drainage systems to overflow with rushing flood waters and a deadly cargo of rocks, mud, smashed trees and other debris.  This yucky mess can wreak havoc in the best of circumstances and profound devastation in the worst.

So how do you prepare?  One of the first things you should do is familiarize yourself with the terms used to describe flood conditions.  Here is a good start from Wikipedia:

A flash flood watch is issued when weather conditions are favorable for very heavy rain and flash flooding. A watch does not mean that flooding is actually occurring, only that conditions have created or will create a significant risk for it. If flooding actually does occur, a flood warning and urgent action should be taken.

A flood warning or flash flood warning is issued when flooding in a certain area is imminent or occurring.

Of course by now you know that you should have a supply of food put away that does not require cooking or refrigeration.  That, plus a manual can opener, is a given.  You should also have drinking water stored away in clean, closed containers.  The other thing you should now by now is that you should have a portable, battery-operated or hand-crank radio plus flashlights and extra batteries ready to go.

What you may not know, especially if you are new to an area, are the specific flood risks that exist near your home or business.  It is never too late to assess that rick.  Here are some guidelines to get started:

If you live in a flood prone area, find out what the average flood depths are in your community.  Your local Red Cross chapter, emergency management office, local National Weather Service office, or planning and zoning department should be able to identify this information for you.

Identify dams in your area and make yourself aware of what could happen if they fail.  Most if not all communities will have a local emergency action plan.  Familiarize yourself with such plans now.

Learn your community’s flood evacuation routes and where to find high ground. In a flash flood you may need to seek high ground on foot quickly.

Know the elevation of your property in relation to nearby streams and dams so that you will know if the flood elevations forecasted will affect your home and your property.

Contact your insurance agent or local government to discuss flood insurance coverage. Flood losses are not covered under homeowners’ insurance policies. Flood insurance is available in most communities through the National Flood Insurance Program. Get coverage now – there is a waiting period, usually five days, before it takes effect.

What to do when the snow melts or the heavy rains start

In heavy rains, flash floods may occur. If you see any possibility of a flash flood occurring, move immediately to higher ground. Do not wait for instructions to move.  Grab your preassembled Bug Out Bag or Go Kit and do just that  GO!  You may need to act quickly. Having your supplies ready will save time.

If you live where it might flood, prepare to evacuate and to seek shelter.  Be sure to gather up your household pets and get them to safety as well.

Listen to the radio and television (if you have power) for information and instructions from your local government and emergency managers.  If you feel at all uneasy, leave.

As soon as your local authorities release a flood warning, fill your bathtub with water to ensure that you have an uncontaminated supply in case services are cut off.

Put sandbags or other protection in place.  Do not stack sandbags against the outside walls of your house to keep water out of your basement.  Instead, stack sandbags away from house walls.  This will prevent flood waters from reaching your home.

When deep flooding is likely, it is better to permit the flood waters to flow freely into the basement (or flood the basement yourself with clean water, if you are sure it will be flooded anyway). This will avoid structural damage to the foundation and the house by equalizing the water pressure on the outside of the basement walls and floors.

If you must evacuate

I am firm believer in getting out of dodge if you think your safety – and comfort – are jeopardized.  Call me a wimp but that is what I think.  Here are some tips to use in the event you choose or are advised to evacuate:

Secure your home before leaving. If you have time, bring in your outdoor items – such as garbage cans, garden equipment and furniture.  If you cannot bring them inside, tie them down securely.  Move essential items and furniture to the upper floors of your house.  This includes your valuables such as fine jewelry, family photos and important documents.

Lock doors and windows.

If instructed, turn off utilities at the main switches or valves. Disconnect electrical appliances, but do not touch any electrical equipment if you are standing in water.

Make sure you have enough fuel in your car and if not, fill up at your earliest opportunity.   Follow recommended evacuation routes.  Whatever you do, do not try to find shortcuts on your own and do not enter into any barricaded or do-not-enter areas.

Evacuate early enough and soon enough to avoid being out on the roads when it is dark.  The last thing you need is to be marooned on a dark, flooded roads.  Be alert for washed-out roadways and bridges; many roads parallel streams and other drainage channels and may be swept away or covered by flood waters. And don’t underestimate the velocity of those moving waters!

Tell others where you are going.  Call, text, or email but be sure to let someone know.  It is also a good idea to put a sign on your door or in your window telling the world you have already evacuated.

What to do if you are driving during a flood


Sometimes you may be on the road and in your vehicle when the flood warnings are issued.  When that happens, use your head.  Avoid already flooded areas and do not attempt to cross flowing streams.  Remember, most flood fatalities are caused by people attempting to drive through water, or, as silly as it seems, people playing in high water.

The depth of water is not always obvious. The roadbed may be washed out under the water, and you could be stranded or trapped. Rapidly rising water may stall the engine, engulf the vehicle and its occupants, and sweep them away.  Look out for flooding at highway dips, bridges, and low areas. Did you know that a measly two feet of water will carry away most automobiles?

Other tips:

If you are driving and come upon rapidly rising waters, turn around and find another route. Move to higher ground away from rivers, streams, creeks, and storm drains. If your route is blocked by flood waters or barricades, find another route. Barricades are put up by local officials to protect people from unsafe roads. Driving around them can be a serious risk.

If your vehicle becomes surrounded by water or the engine stalls and you can safely get out, abandon your vehicle immediately and climb to higher ground. Many deaths have resulted from attempts to move stalled vehicles. Just two feet of water moving at 10 miles per hour will float virtually any car. Use extreme caution when abandoning your vehicle, and look for an opportunity to move away quickly and safely to higher ground.

What to do when the waters recede after the flood

The waters have receded and you are ready to go home.  But wait.  Do not return home or visit disaster areas until you are authorized to do so.  Remember, flood dangers do not end when the water begins to recede.   Tune in to the emergency radio station and wait for instructions.  This is not the time to be hasty.

Expect to be stressed.  After all, you life has been disrupted.  But once you are cleared to return, keep the following in mind:

If you have flood insurance and suffer a loss, notify your agent.

Tune in to radio and television for advice and instructions on where to obtain medical care and where to get assistance for such necessities as housing, clothes and food.

Do not enter your home if flood waters are over the first floor since you will be unable to tell whether the building is safe to enter.

Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights (not oil or gas lanterns or torches) to examine buildings.  Be sure to wear sturdy shoes since the most common injury following a disaster is cut feet.  And don’t forget the gloves as well.

Flooding may have swollen doors tight. When the entrance must be forced because of swollen doors, accumulated mud or bulged floors, try to enter through a window or another opening.

Beware of using the water for drinking!  It is not unusual for water sources to become contaminated during a flood so check with local emergency management authorities before taking a sip.

Do not eat food that has come in contact with flood waters.  Throw it away!  Contaminated flood water contains bacteria and germs and eating foods exposed to flood waters can make you very sick.

Wash hands frequently and to the point of obsession.  Use plenty of soap and clean water and if you don’t have clean water, use and alcohol based sanitizer of wipes.

Wash all clothes and linens in hot water.  Also discard mattresses and stuffed furniture since they can’t be adequately cleaned.

Wash dirt and mud from walls, counters and hard surfaced floors with soap and water. Disinfect by wiping surfaces with a solution of one cup bleach per gallon of water

This may seem obvious, but do not handle live electrical equipment in wet, damp areas. Have an expert check all equipment before returning it to service.

Ask the gas company to check you home for leaks and to turn the gas back on.

The Final Word

It is easy to get complacent about floods, especially if you do not live in a flood plane or low lying area.  On the other hand, something as benign as leaves plugging the street drain can cause water to back up and put your home at risk of for a flood.  Or, while driving you could get caught on a roadway that has been overcome by turbulent flood water.

As with all disasters, knowledge and advance preparation in the form an emergency kit will help you prevail and to get you through secure in the knowledge that you have prepared.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!


Bargain Bin: Survival is all about learning to fend for yourself. Here are some of items that will be useful in the event there is a flood.

Kaito Voyager KA500 Solar/Crank Emergency AM/FM/SW NOAA Weather Radio: A lot of different hand crank radios are sold but this one is one of the the most popular.

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Pack of 10):

Fiskars 7855 8-Inch Hatchet: The Fiskars products are easily sharpened and will last a lifetime. Oh, and while you are at it, you might also like the Fiskars Axe & Knife Sharpener .

MAGLITE XL50-S3016 LED Flashlight: I own a number of these. Small, sturdy, and easy to handle.

Nano Light Keychain LED Flashlight: I have dozens (literally!) of mini-LED flashlights. They are in my purse, my car, my nightstand, my desk drawer and the pockets of my parka and coat. This one is especially nice because it clips to a key-ring.

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Pack of 10):

Cyalume Snap Light Industrial Grade Chemical Light Sticks, 6″, 12 Hour Duration:  These are great when the power is out or if you need something to light your way when stranded along the roadside.  Very inexpensive;

SOG M37-N SEAL Pup: One of many very popular knives. Plus, for the budget conscious, the very nice Kershaw OSO Sweet Knife.

Holding Your Ground: Preparing for Defense if it All Falls Apart: I have not had time to write up my review (excellent!) of this book but I will tell you this. You NEED this book if you care about defending your homestead.



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2 Responses to “Flood Preparedness: Coping with the Rising Waters”

  1. Good article! To get A REAL EDUCATION in what a flood can do, read a book, not an internet article, but a book on the JOHNSTOWN FLOOD of 1889 to get the complete picture. I’d read a little about it a few yrs ago and knew it was bad, but decided recently to read more on the topic. The book I finished the other day on Johnstown, Pa (can’t remember the author since I returned it to the library) paints an awesome picture. Over 700 people perished in at least three Pennsylvania town in less than 30 minutes from a wave of water at least 40 feet high. The ground for 15 miles was literally scoured clean. It was so bad aid was sent from as far away as Europe and California.

  2. we just had a cyclone here in southern africa and another one is due to hit us this coming weekend, it is highly unusual for us to have two in a row and our last one was in 1984… if this one hits hard this weekend it will cause alot of damage as the rivers are still full from last weeks cyclone, roads are already damaged and closed, we are however the lucky ones thousands of people live on the flood planes of mozambique and are already evacuating… We pray all goes well and the loss of life is minimal, take care and good luck with your melt…..

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