This is not a subject that I write about often, but it is still a hazard that must be respected. We do not deal with this very often, so that is all the more reason to talk about it. Flash flooding comes from a number of different reasons. Heavy rains over a short period of time, tropical systems, dams that break and sometimes water mains that break can all lead to a flooding situation. Drainage systems and creeks can handle a lot of water, but at some point they, too, will be overwhelmed.
Some places are prone to flooding. Those who know the area know which areas to avoid in heavy rain events. Part of having to work and park in these areas, such as Shockoe Bottom, will be problematic when heavy rains overwhelm the drainage systems. How many times have we seen flooded vehicles in these types of places? The point is to find somewhere else to park if the situation that causes these places to flood is known to be coming. The problem is in the wording: “flash” flood.
When large amounts of water overwhelm drainage systems or extend beyond creek banks, the water has the tendency to travel across roadways. You might be surprised that it does not take high water to cause the movement of a vehicle. We saw numerous vehicles swept away by swift water in Texas. The best practice is to turn around and find another route when faced with water crossing a roadway.
Another tremendous danger in a flash flood is when a person attempts to walk across a flooded or flowing roadway or yard. Imagine trying to cross a flowing river, even though it may be shallow. It is difficult to gain and maintain footing in this setting. Add to it unfamiliar obstacles and hazards, and the level of danger escalates. You may think that it will be easy to cross that body of water, but, for the novice, it is difficult to get safely across it, especially if it is flowing. One of the worst things you can do is to tie a rope to yourself. If you lose your footing and get swept away, you become a human crank bait, being pulled under. If you must cross a body of water, you need to wear a personal floatation device.
The point of this article is to forewarn you about the hazards associated with flash flooding. “Flash,” in this case, means sudden. Once darkness falls, it becomes more difficult to detect flooded areas. I, in a sense, lost a car to a flooded Highway 12 in Buxton, N.C., back in 1982. The road-closed sign had washed into a parallel position to the roadway. By the time I realized what had happened, I was stuck in sand and a rising ocean, in the middle of Highway 12. We were able to get my car out of the situation, but the ocean took its toll on my 1982 Firebird. Go another way if your primary route is flooded, whether in your vehicle or on foot.