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How To Survive Flash Floods in Your Car


Updated January 24, 2014

Car stalled on a flooded street in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

Car stalled on a flooded street in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

Stevie Wright

Almost half of all flash flood deaths happen in vehicles. Driving through flash flood areas can be extremely hazardous. It's important to know how to avoid flash floods and what to do if you are caught in a flash flood. These tips were taken from FEMA and from the NOAA brochure, Floods: The Awesome Power (pdf).

For more information, see Surviving Floods

Difficulty: N/A

Time Required: Until the floods recede

Here's How:

  1. Never drive through a flooded road or bridge. Back up and try a different route.


  2. Stay on high ground.


  3. Listen to the radio for weather information. Take routes that avoid flooded areas Information is readily available from the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards. Broadcasts require a specific receiver or scanner. It's best to have a receiver with the Specific Area Message Encoder (SAME), which will alert you when flash flood warnings or watches are issued.


    There are seven channels (MHz frequencies) used in the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards:
    1. 162.400
    2. 162.425
    3. 162.450
    4. 162.475
    5. 162.500
    6. 162.525
    7. 162.550
  4. Do not stay in a flooded car. If your vehicle is surrounded by floodwater, abandon the vehicle and move immediately to higher ground.


  5. If your car is swept into the water and submerged, DON'T PANIC! Stay calm and wait for the vehicle to fill with water. Once the vehicle is full, the doors will open. Hold your breath and swim to the surface.


  6. If you are swept into fast moving floodwater outside of your car, point your feet downstream. Always go over obstacles, never try to go under.


  7. If you are stranded on something above the floodwater, such as a tree or building, stay put and wait for rescue. Do not enter the floodwater.



  1. Know the terms associated with floods and flash floods.
    • Flood Watch Flooding is possible. Tune into NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television.
    • Flash Flood Watch Flash floods are possible. Be prepared to move quickly to higher ground. Listen to radio or television for information.
    • Flood Warning Flooding is occurring or will occur soon. Evacuate immediately if told to do so.
    • Flash Flood Warning A flash flood is occurring. Move to higher ground immediately on foot.
  2. Don't rely exclusively on official warning. If flash floods are possible move to higher ground as soon as possible.


  3. Don't walk into moving water. Just six inches of moving water can knock you down.


  4. Don't overestimate your car's ability to drive through floodwater. Six inches of water is enough to reach the bottom of most passenger cars. Driving in water this deep is enough to cause a loss of control or stall the car. A foot of water will float most cars and two feet of rushing water will sweep most vehicles, including SUV's and pickups.


  5. If at all possible, avoid contact with floodwater. Floodwater may be contaminated with oil, gasoline, or raw sewage. Floodwater may also be charged with electricity from fallen power lines.


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