Tips for Surviving a Flash Flood

A city after a flash food
A city after a flash food

Flash floods are dangerous because they can occur without warning if the conditions are right. Unlike hurricanes or tornadoes, there typically won’t be a warning sent out by the emergency or weather services.

Instead, the flash flood will happen fast and when you least expect it. It’s largely for this reason that more people die annually from flash floods than hurricanes or tornadoes.

Water floods a neighborhood in the Midwest
Water floods a neighborhood in the Midwest

Flash floods are simply defined as the very fast flooding of low-level areas such as streams, rivers, basins, and canyons. Floods develop from either heavy rain, the aftermath of a hurricane, or the melting of snow and ice from higher areas.

Fortunately, a flash flood is nothing that you can’t prepare for. We will now learn about the procedures to take to survive a flash flood.


Although the speed with which flash floods occur means that radio alerts are often not sent out, you would still be wise to listen to your radio for any relevant information, especially if you live in an area that has been prone to flooding in the past.

A flood after heavy rain
A flood after heavy rain

As they can happen at any time, it’s more than possible that one could strike while you’re out in your car. For this reason, always have an emergency survival kit in your vehicle at all times.

At the bare minimum, this kit should include clean drinking water, MREs, a flashlight and extra batteries, emergency radio, a complete medical kit, a knife, and some blankets.

Disaster preparation kit
Disaster preparation kit

Flash floods form fastest in canyons and streams, so these are areas that you will typically want to avoid, especially in the late spring when the snow is melting or during/after a heavy rainstorm.


Let’s say that a flash flood has struck and you have found yourself in the middle of it. What are you supposed to do next?

If you come across a flooded road, the best thing that you can do is to turn and drive away. Avoid driving in or through flooded areas. Once the flood waters have risen to six inches around your car, you should abandon the vehicle immediately and escape to higher ground.

The reason for abandoning the vehicle in just six inches of water is because that’s all it takes for the driver to lose control of the vehicle or for it to stall. Once the water reaches two feet, it can carry it away. This is also true for heavy-duty trucks and SUVs.

You will always have a better chance of surviving a flash flood outside of your vehicle rather than inside of it
You will always have a better chance of surviving a flash flood outside of your vehicle rather than inside of it

You will always have a better chance of surviving a flash flood outside of your vehicle than inside of it. In addition, if you wait too long to try and escape your car, the pressure from the water could make it nearly impossible to push open the door to escape.

If you find yourself trapped in your car and can’t open the door, you should try to break through the windows or through your sunroof to escape. Remember to try and remain as calm as possible because panicking is the worst thing that you can do.

Control your breathing, remember what to do, and take action. Also, remember to grab your survival kit while abandoning your vehicle: that kit could end up being what keeps you or someone else alive.

Once you are outside of your vehicle, head downstream rather than upstream. This decreases the chance of injury as you have a greater chance of slipping and being carried away by the flood if you try to walk upstream. Brace yourself while walking downstream to resist the impact of the rushing water and debris that it carries. As you walk, look for an area of higher ground that looks safe.

It’s also possible for a flash flood to occur while you are in a building. If this happens, do not leave the building. It’s a bad idea to try and walk out of the building into the stream. Instead, stay where you are and wait for rescue to arrive. If the water seeps into the first level of the building, head upstairs to the next level.


Something that many people don’t realize about the aftermath of a flash flood is that the community’s gasoline, sewage, and water systems are going to be contaminated.

It’s also very possible that the flood waters will have covered power lines, meaning that they will be electrically charged and can electrocute you if you touch them. This is another reason why it’s wise to avoid striding out into the water if possible.

After the rain
After the rain

Emergency services should notify you when the community’s water supply has been decontaminated and is safe to drink. Avoid drinking or using the water until that point.

Do not walk into any buildings that are surrounded by flood water and remember that the roads are likely to have been weakened under the pressure of the water. Don’t drive on any roads even after the water has receded until they are declared safe to drive on.


The majority of flash floods happen fast and without warning. One moment your town can be going about its normal life, and literally just two or three minutes later it can become enveloped in running water, before being reduced to a swamp in the aftermath.

Flash floods are very dangerous and ultimately claim more lives each year than tornadoes and hurricanes, but most of the people who are killed by them are killed by their vehicles being swept away whilst they are trapped inside.

This is why it’s very dangerous to be inside your car in the middle of a flash flood. Just remember to abandon your car once the water level exceeds six inches and to escape to higher ground by heading downstream.

If you’re trapped in a building, stay where you are and escape to the higher levels of the building as the water seeps in. If you can do these things, you have a good chance of surviving any flash flood that strikes your community.


nick-oetken is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival