What is a Flash Flood and How Do I Prepare For One?

Flash floods are frightening and dangerous because they are sudden and strong. Since they usually start and end in less than six hours, it is nearly impossible to prepare for one. How, then, does one protect one’s family from these frightening occurrences? The best defense you can have is knowledge: know what causes them, what surrounding areas are susceptible to flooding, and what to do if you find yourself in a flash flood situation.What is a Flash Flood?
A flash flood is a rapid flooding of a low-lying area of land, usually near a river or a stream. Most of these events occur after heavy rain, often in areas that don’t usually receive much rainwater. Flash floods may also flow when man-made or natural ice dams break. In very rare instances, volcanic activity may melt glaciers, triggering one. When the ground can’t absorb the rain as fast as it is falling, a these floods will occur. Excess water then runs into streams and rivers and flows quickly downhill. Depending on geography, flash flooding can happen as far as thirty miles away from the original site of precipitation.Flash floods are one of the most dangerous types of natural disasters. According to the National Weather Service, flash floods kill more people each year than lightning, tornadoes, or hurricanes. Surprisingly, the speed of these damaging events is not their most dangerous quality. Indeed, most flash flood-related deaths transpire when people underestimate their power. Even a flood of just two feet can be swift and powerful enough to carry away an SUV-sized vehicle. The majority of fatalities occur when people attempt to ford flooded areas in their vehicles. Many other deaths are attributed to collisions with hidden debris, such as branches or logs that are pushed along by the water. When it comes to avoiding a flash flood-related injury or death, the best advice comes from the US National Weather Service: “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”Flood Damage Preparation
Due to their sudden nature, it is challenging to prepare for a flash flood. Still, there are a few precautions you can take if you live in an area that is prone to flooding. The most commonly flooded areas are southern and eastern states like Texas, Louisiana, Florida, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Desert areas of the West, such as Nevada, are also hotspots, since arid soil can’t hold much water.The most obvious precaution to take against flash floods is to stay up-to-date on weather patterns and flood warnings. Do not take any chances; if there is a chance a flood may hit your home or business, get out immediately. You can prepare for flash floods before any warning is announced by storing valuables and sentimental items in high places. A flood may be powerful, but if you keep valuables high, there is a smaller chance of water damage. Finally, try to save pictures of your valuables, in case they do get damaged. Having pictures of your house, car, furniture, and other assets will help speed up the insurance claim process following any disaster. (By the way, you do have flood insurance, right?)Flash floods are dangerous, unexpected, and unpredictable. They can take lives, destroy homes, and cause extensive damage. Fortunately, with a little preparation, a flash flood doesn’t have to be devastating.~Ben Nystrom, 2009

Flood Certification Land Surveying

If you live, or are considering moving to, areas where flooding may be a problem, then you may be in need of special land surveying or certification. Many areas of the country, including parts of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina as well as many other states, are susceptible to flooding.Before you have flood certification land surveys done on your land, consult the known information on flood plains in your area. This may be listed in your property profile, and if so, it can be obtained through the real estate agent. There are also FEMA flood maps which can be found on their website. In most cases, floodplains, which are expected to flood periodically, are described by the expected frequency, such as an annual floodplain or a 100-year floodplain. Even if your land is not in a designated flood plain, the plot of land still has a designated flood zone. This does not mean that the land is likely to flood. It is simply an area defined by a level of flood risk; even areas of low or almost nonexistent risk lie within a certain flood zone.Whether your land is located in a flood plain is important not only because of the possibility of flooding, but also because mortgage companies may require you to secure flood insurance before they will finance your purchase. The FEMA site tells you whether flood insurance will be required if you plan to finance land that lies within the flood plain outlined on their maps.The FEMA flood plain maps are known as Flood Insurance Rate Maps, or FIRM. Mortgage companies who you may contact to finance your real estate purchase are required by law to determine whether the plot of land lies in any floodplain that is expected to flood at least once per century. When the land in question does lie in such a flood plain, the mortgage company may require that you obtain flood insurance before they will finance the land, since the land has a substantial risk of flooding during the lifespan of a typical 30-year mortgage.If your land lies in a 100-year or more frequent floodplain, it is also known as lying in a Special Flood Hazard Area, or SFHA for short. Instead of purchasing flood insurance, you can also apply for a Letter of Map Amendment (a LOMA) or a Letter of Map Revision (a LOMR) to show that your land or building is not actually in the flood plain. Only the LOMA or LOMR can remove the requirement for flood insurance. You may also need an Elevation Certificate, which applies to buildings constructed on elevated structures so that the buildings themselves are higher than the flood level. All of these require a land survey to give you as accurate of a picture of the land as possible. They are particularly useful if you have changed the elevation of the land significantly through grading or other activities, or have built up the land underneath a building so that the building no longer lies in the flood plain despite the fact that the area around it still does.Never rely on anyone’s word that the land will be suitable for your purposes or that it won’t flood. A land survey can tell you the concrete details of the land you are interested in. Even if the property is located well inland, always investigate the possibility of flooding. Besides the fact that floods are rather inconvenient, it can also be expensive, both to repair flood damage and to pay for flood insurance so that you can finance the property. If your land does lie within these areas, you can either have a land survey done and apply for a LOMA or LOMR to revise the flood maps, or purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.