Are Floods Really a Big Deal?

Are Floods Really a Big Deal?

“I live on a street with excellent storm drains, and my house is five miles from the nearest river! I can’t be at risk for a flood!”

Sure, Jan. Unless your kids’ names are Shem, Ham, and Japheth, you probably shouldn’t bring that hubris anywhere near a raincloud. May we remind you of the Great Flood of 1993 that spanned nine states in the Midwest and covered 400,000 square miles? It was caused by a series of unusual storm activities that created flood conditions across many “dry” areas. But it only caused $15 billion in damage, so maybe you can afford to ignore the possibility of a flood.

Floods can be sneaky. Anytime there’s heavy rain and insufficient drainage, they’ll be ready to make an appearance. Flash floods caused by short, intense periods of rain are scary, but don’t forget about those slow and steady rains; creeping floods can be just as destructive.

Car stuck in a flood GIF
If this seems fine to you, read no further.

Do You Live in a Flood Zone?

Even if you live five miles from the nearest river, you could be in a flood zone! In fact, the US government has decreed that every person in the US lives in an area at risk for flooding, in categories of low, moderate, and high. Check it out to determine your risk. You might be surprised to find that areas of high risk aren’t always near water. Depending on your home’s elevation, you could live in a flood zone and not even realize it.

Rule of Thumb

If your location’s information isn’t listed at the FEMA link, search for your county’s flood maps. If they’re not posted online, a quick email to the county’s public works department should put you in touch with the people who have the maps.

Flood Insurance — Get It!

Because everything about floods is a giant pain the butt, many homeowners are surprised to discover that even if they do live in a flood zone, flooding usually isn’t covered by traditional homeowners insurance policies. If you’re a homeowner, adding a flood rider to your insurance is one of the smartest things you can do to protect your largest financial asset. (And if you have financial assets that exceed the value of your home, such as a private space station or a superyacht, please consider sending us a donation when you finish reading this guide.) Regardless of your wealth, you can find flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.

What to Do in a Flood

Since floods are a big enough deal that you should have a separate insurance policy to protect your house, you should also have a plan to protect yourself. It’s dangerous out there!

The most exciting (read: surprising and terrifying) floods are flash floods. They’re not the most common type of flood, but they’re still ready and willing to tear you apart. Having an emergency preparedness kit will make it easier to evacuate quickly or keep you comfortable while you shelter in place, should a flash flood occur. Your kit should include essentials like medications, shelf-stable food supplies, a first aid kit, additional batteries or chargers for phones, and materials for makeshift shelter or bedding.

Stay tuned into weather alerts during rainy days and always evacuate ASAP when advised, if you are not already blocked by floodwaters. Get the full flood preparation guide here.

cat and emergency go bag
Keep your go bag handy so it’s always ready to go!

Evacuate Safely

To make your life easier in the event of a flood, learn the best evacuation routes in your area now. Your county or city should have evacuation routes published online–these are routes they’ll work hard to keep clear and accessible during emergencies. Check the map and make a note of alternate routes in the lowest risk flood areas, in case roads are crowded or flooding is severe.

Once you have your routes, repeat this mantra: I will never attempt to drive through flood water. The risk is never worth it. Flood water is usually murky or muddy, which makes it extremely dangerous. It’s often deeper than it looks, and the road below may have washed away or contain hidden obstacles. If water enters your engine, you could get stuck in the water and total your car in the process.

The National Weather Service notes that just six inches of floodwater is enough to cause potential stalling problems, and the likelihood increases as the water level rises. As the experts suggest so eloquently, in flooding situations, Turn Around, Don’t Drown.


I will never attempt to drive through flood water.

I will never attempt to drive through flood water.

I will never attempt to drive through flood water.

Same goes for walking and biking, friends! That dirty flood water could contain pathogens and hazards that you don’t need to encounter. If you choose to go by boat, do so only if it’s an absolute emergency, be extremely cautious, and be prepared to be approached by law enforcement. Flood waters aren’t for pleasure cruisers, Gilligan.

road way closed by flood sign
Turn around. Don’t drown.

About the Author

Writer, editor, and professional joker with an environmental science background. Like most trivia nerds, she's an ardent admirer of Only Connect competitors, but more at home on the QI field.

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