Storm Safety 2020: Flooding

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By Mark Bogner

Previous Articles: Preparedness | Tornadoes | Lightning

Turn Around, Down’t Drown – this storm safety advice is something you have probably heard, and if you are a poet, have cringed at its use of the slide rhyme. And while it sounds a bit quaint and perhaps oversimplified, the truth of the matter is that flooding is the #1 killer in all of nature and by far and away, most of those deaths occur in vehicles.


2019 brought severe flooding to many parts of the state, after many days of heavy rainfall in May. Flooding was really the weather story of the year in Kansas, closing the Kansas Turnpike near Wellington for just over 2 days and impacting areas along the Missouri River near Atchison and Kansas City all summer and into the fall. This footage is from south central Kansas on May 8th:

Video credit: KWCH (–509629541.html)

For us here in Kansas, it may be surprising that it is the number one killer and that is because, while that applies to the U.S. as a whole, it doesn’t really apply to Kansas. We have averaged around two flooding deaths a year over the last ten years. Our neighbors to the south in Oklahoma have suffered closer to six a year. Nearly every case was completely preventable. Too often, people move from a place of relative safety to a place of danger by driving into water that is running over the road. There are two problems with that:

  • Roads wash away easily and it may be impossible to see that
  • it only takes about 18″ of water to float a full-sized vehicle.

Vehicles float very easily because they are shaped like a boat and have an inner-tube on each corner. Water is deceptively powerful and as it hits a vehicle from the side, the tires lose contact with the road and the vehicle starts to move sideways into deeper water in the ditch or creek. Once that happens, your chance of survival are greatly reduced.

flood,storm safety,turn around don't drown
Graphic courtesy of the National Weather Service

Another interesting statistic is that over 60% of all flooding fatalities are men. It’s so common there are memes….



Don’t let your macho pride lead to your death by thinking your vehicle will somehow make it through a place that you shouldn’t be going in the first place.

The second most common way people die in flooding is by walking into it. Again, going from a place of relative safety to a place of life-threatening danger.

So maybe the title of this article doesn’t sound so quaint and simplified. If you are driving or walking and you see a place where water is moving across the road or path in front of you, the rule is simple. TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN!

Like Thunderstorms and Tornadoes, there are Flood Watches & Warnings

What is the difference between a Flood Watch and a Flood Warning issued by the National Weather Service?

  • Flash Flood Warning: Take Action! A Flash Flood Warning is issued when a flash flood is imminent or occurring. If you are in a flood prone area move immediately to high ground. A flash flood is a sudden violent flood that can take from minutes to hours to develop. It is even possible to experience a flash flood in areas not immediately receiving rain.
    Flash Flood Warnings are changing to an Impact-Based format to improve public response. Read the factsheet.
  • Flood Warning: Take Action! A Flood Warning is issued when the hazardous weather event is imminent or already happening. A Flood Warning is issued when flooding is imminent or occurring.
  • Flood Watch: Be Prepared:A Flood Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for a specific hazardous weather event to occur. A Flood Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for flooding. It does not mean flooding will occur, but it is possible.
  • Flood Advisory: Be Aware: An Flood Advisory is issued when a specific weather event that is forecast to occur may become a nuisance. A Flood Advisory is issued when flooding is not expected to be bad enough to issue a warning. However, it may cause significant inconvenience, and if caution is not exercised, it could lead to situations that may threaten life and/or property.
flood,storm safety,turn around don't drown
NWS Graphic: All Flood Watch/Warning Products


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