What to Do if There is a Flash Flood Emergency While You’re Driving


cars stuck in a flash flood emergency

Flash floods can alter driving conditions from normal to dangerous in the blink of an eye. In July 2022, St. Louis and southern Illinois experienced a record breaking flash flood emergency where upwards of 11” of rain fell in the course of eight hours, causing road closures, water rescues and flooded train stations. While this does not happen every time rain falls in Missouri and Illinois, our personal injury attorneys want local drivers to be aware of the dangers of flash floods and the safety guidelines they should follow when a warning is issued. 

What is a flash flood? 

Flash floods are sudden local floods that occur from an onslaught of heavy rains. Flooding makes an impact within a matter of hours of the start of heavy rainfall, and it may be especially disastrous for urban areas due to the fast-flowing water in local rivers, creeks and streams. This natural disaster often catches many people off guard while they are driving, swimming or living near streams and rivers — causing destruction in a matter of moments. 

What are the stages of flash flood emergency warnings? 

The National Weather Service has a standard set of warning levels for flash flooding, similar to tornado warnings and thunderstorm advisories. No matter what your travel plans are when a warning is released, you must listen and make a safe decision about taking to the roads. 

The four stages of a flash flood emergency outlined by the National Weather Service are: 

1. Flood Watch. A watch is issued when conditions in the atmosphere are favorable for flash flooding to occur. It does not mean it will occur, but it is highly possible. 

2. Flood Advisory. An advisory is issued when a specific weather event in the forecast may produce flash flooding. While the flooding is not expected to be dangerous, it may be in some areas if ignored. 

3. Flood Warning. A warning means the dangerous weather is imminent or already happening. People in affected areas must exercise caution and stay away from rushing water. 

4. Flash Flood Warning. A warning means the weather may cause imminent or already occurring flash floods. If you are in a flood prone area, you must immediately move to higher ground since flash flooding may take hours or minutes to cause destruction. Even if rain is not falling, a flash flood warning may still occur if you are in an area where running water may have been affected by a nearby storm. 

What should I do if I am caught in a flash flood while driving? 

Since flash floods occur quickly, you may already be out on the roads when a warning is issued. According to the National Weather service, the national average of flood deaths is 88 with nearly half of all those fatalities from vehicle-related situations

If you find yourself in a flash flood warning while driving in Missouri or Illinois, here are the safety tips you should follow if you are caught in a flooding situation. 

1. Find higher ground immediately. If a flash flood warning is issued, assess where you are driving and if you are near bodies of water. Once you assess your situation, drive your car or walk to higher ground if that is safer. 

2. Don’t park by running water. If a flash flood warning is issued when you reach your destination, do not park your car near running water. Instead, park your car on higher ground away from the water. 

3. Follow flood barrier instructions. If public service teams have placed barricades on roadways, do not attempt to go around them. These are typically erected because water is on the road and it poses a significant risk for drivers to attempt to drive through it. 

4. Slow down. Visibility will be limited in heavy rains preventing drivers from seeing water on the road or hydroplaning until it is too late. 

5. Turn around. If water is flowing onto the road you are traveling on or planning to turn onto, safely turn around and do not attempt to drive through it.  

Stay Safe in Flash Flood Emergency Situations

Flash floods are serious natural disasters that all drivers should be aware of in order to prevent serious driving accidents. After last year’s flash flooding incident, we want to make sure all drivers are prepared if warnings hit the greater St. Louis area again this year. Whether water crosses your driving path or if heavy rains come out of the blue, make sure to exercise caution and pull over if necessary.  

For more safety tips and legal information, visit our blog to learn more from our attorneys.