Finishing Your Basement

Homeowner's Guide: Flash Flood Watches & Warnings

Heavy rainfall or massive snow melt can cause a flash flood to occur, which can bring a wall of water 10-20 feet high. A flash flood warning is issued when one is occurring or is imminent. If you are in a warning area, move to higher ground immediately. Listen to your local radio stations for information on evacuation routes and shelters.

If your area has a flash flood watch, you have a little time to prepare your family and your home. A flash flood watch is issued when there is a strong possibility that a flash flood may happen soon. There's no way to tell when, or if, a flash flood will happen when a watch is issued. However, it's important to prepare your family and your home for a warning to be issued, because a flash flood can only take minutes or hours to develop after a warning is issued. Here are a few important things to do when your home is in a flash flood watch area. 

Pack a Bag

When it comes to last-minute preparations for your family and your home, take care of your family first. You'll need to pack essentials in a bag. If anyone takes life-saving medication, pack it in the bag first. If any medication needs to be taken with food and/or water, be sure to pack it in the bag. Another life-saving essential today is your cell phone. Start charging your phone or a spare battery if you have one.

  • important documents, such as birth certificates and your driver's license
  • cash in case of power outages
  • diapers, wipes and formula if you have an infant
  • bottled water, canned goods and a manual can opener
  • feminine hygiene products if necessary
  • extra clothing, socks and underwear
  • rubber boots and rain jackets
  • towels and blankets
  • batteries and a flashlight

Put the bag into a plastic bag or trash bag to keep it all dry. Then, place the bag into your vehicle and shift focus to preparing your home. If you are very low on gas, it would be a good idea to go fill up your gas tank now before you prepare your home so you'll be able to evacuate your family if necessary. Don't wait to get gas until later, because the pumps may not work if the power goes out or the gas station is flooded.

Prepare Your Home

Prepare your home for the possible deluge of water that may hit it soon if a flash flood does develop. It's unlikely that you have sand bags readily available and already filled, but place them strategically around your home if you do. If the weather service has issued the watch with enough of an advance, the local authorities may distribute sand bags to neighborhoods that are prone to severe flooding. Here are a few important things to do to keep your home safe from water damage and you safe from hazards when you return. That way, you won't walk into contaminated water or suffer from an electrical shock when you return to check the water damage. 

  • unplug all appliances and electronics
  • flip the electrical circuit breaker to off
  • shut off all other utilities, including gas and water
  • move all chemicals and hazardous materials to the top floor
  • take all outdoor furniture and items inside
  • check your sump pump, and replace batteries if it uses them
  • clear your gutters and downspouts
  • lock all windows and doors

While you are preparing your home, be sure to continue listening to the radio. Keep your ears open for notification of any evacuation routes that are designated, and which bridges or roads are washed out. The radio will likely give locations of shelters you can evacuate to when you are ready to leave.

Do not wait until flash flood warnings are issued to start preparing your family and your home. Flash floods can occur suddenly and cause a lot of water damage and serious injuries. When you do evacuate, do not drive on roadways that are covered with water. Follow the evacuation route and keep your radio on to listen for updates from the weather service and the authorities.