Flood Safety Tips: How to Prepare for a Flood & Stay Safe

Stay safe during heavy rain events and storm surges with these flood safety tips.

Updated August 30, 2023
flooded road in Sonoma County, CA

Turn around, don't drown. These are the four magical words that everyone should remember in the event of a flood.

Water is a powerful force, and you never know what is lurking just beneath the surface. But what is the difference between a flood and a flash flood? And do you know how to prepare for a flood? We wash away your fears and explore some interesting flood facts and important flood safety tips to help you stay safe when severe weather strikes!

How to Prepare for a Flood

One of the best ways to ensure that you stay safe during any flooding event is to be proactive. Here are some simple ways to prepare for a flood before it becomes a threat.

Determine if You Live on a Floodplain

Floodplains are low-lying areas that are adjacent to bodies of water. These sections of land have a higher risk of flooding. An easy way to determine if you live in one of these areas is to check your local county flood zone map. They can be found on your city government's website. 

Get Flood Insurance

Even if you don't live in a flood zone, you are prone to flooding. If it rains where you live, flooding can occur. And if you live in areas that receive high amounts of yearly rainfall or if you reside in hurricane-prone regions, you are especially at risk. Having flood insurance ensures that if your home incurs damage from flood waters, you have the necessary funds to rebuild.

Determine Evacuation Routes

Flash floods are typically localized events. This means that small areas will have rapid moving water, and just yards away, everything will be dry. Knowing how to safely reroute is imperative to your safety. 

Set Up Free Weather Alerts

Mobile phones are now equipped with Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). All you have to do is go into your settings and turn on the 'emergency alert' notification option. This will allow alerts to be sent when severe weather arises. 

How to Stay Safe During a Flood: Flood Safety Tips

flood rescue

When flooding is reported in your region, you need to take flood safety precautions. Here are six flood safety tips to stay safe during a food and flash flood. 

Stay Informed On Flooding Conditions in Your Area

If there is rain forecasted in your area, stay up to date! Besides signing up for weather alerts, you can download an array of free weather apps to give you access to the radar. This can help you to quickly check if heavy rain is falling nearby or along your driving route. These programs typically also show where watches and warnings have been issued, making it easy to spot places to avoid.

Helpful Hack

If you're looking at the radar on your phone or on the television, blue and green colors signify light rain, whereas yellow, orange, red, and white shades show where heavy rain is located. 

Need to Know

No technology is perfect. Radar images are typically delayed by five minutes. This means that the image you are seeing has already occurred, and the storm is likely closer than it seems. Thus, if it looks like heavy rain is close, it may be best to wait out this part of the storm.

When the power goes out or cell service is interrupted by the weather, a battery-operated radio can give you access to the local news and weather reports. Listen carefully for instructions about whether and when you need to leave the area.

Avoid Going Out During Flood Events

We all have places to go and things to do. Our lives are busy, but Mother Nature is not on our schedule. If heavy rain is falling in your area, it's always best to avoid driving. Heavy traffic can make it hard to reroute, heavy rain can make it hard to see, and flash floods can occur quite quickly. By waiting out the event, you lessen your risk.

Need to Know

If you have to get out, take a quick look at your county flood zone map and the radar. Avoid flood-prone areas and spots where heavy rain is currently falling. Remember that the weather is always changing, and it can shift directions. So be ready to reroute and always turn around, don't drown.

Don't Walk or Drive Through Flooded Areas

If you are caught outside during a flood, don't try to wade through the rushing waters. The current may be swifter than you realize, and you can easily be knocked down and swept away in only a few inches of water. Instead, move toward higher ground as quickly and carefully as you can.

Need to Know

In the moment, you may not think about it, but in large-scale flooding events, the water "may contain sewage, sharp items, and chemicals that can make you ill." Snakes, alligators, and other dangerous critters may also be hiding under the surface. 

Similarly, when a portion of the road has flooded, turn around. Even if you see other drivers attempting to drive through, prioritize your safety. If barricades are in place, do not drive around them. Bridges over rising water should also be avoided.

Fast Fact

When you put yourself at risk, you put others at risk as well. If you get swept away or trapped in your vehicle, someone has to come rescue you. While emergency officials are trained for these situations, they're still risking their life in a situation that could've been avoided. 

If You Get Stuck in Flooded Waters and Your Car Stalls, Abandon Your Vehicle

If a vehicle becomes disabled in a flood, get out right away. Staying in your vehicle can lead to entrapment and increase your risk of drowning. 

Practice Electrical Safety

If you find that a room in your home has become flooded, like a basement, do not enter the room. When water is covering electrical outlets, you risk electric shock. This can lead to burns, cardiac arrest, and even death. When this occurs, turn off the power to your home, evacuate, and call a trained electrician to inspect your system before returning. 

Evacuate Flood Areas Immediately When Instructed 

In a situation where authorities advise you to leave a specific area, follow the instructions carefully. You may be told to take a certain route out of town. Choosing to follow a different one can risk your safety. Also, remember to take things slow, because you can come upon flash flooding in the blink of an eye. 

After the Flood: Things to Know

wellies boots

Just because the rain has stopped and the skies have cleared doesn't mean that the flood waters have receded. It is important to check for local news updates to find out when it's safe to return to disaster-struck areas. Other flood safety tips to keep in mind include:

  • Check to see if a boil water notice is in place. Follow this advisory until authorities deem the water in the area safe to drink.
  • Don't visit disaster areas. This can hinder rescue efforts and emergency operations.
  • Obey road signs. If there are road closures, it is for a reason. 
  • Turn off the power, gas, and water to your home if you were impacted by flooding. An electrician can determine if it's safe to return.
  • Once it is safe to return, throw out food and drinks that have touched flood waters. Floodwater can contain sewage, so when in doubt, throw it out. 
  • Contact your insurance company. Do an inventory of your home and submit a claim through insurance as soon as possible. This can help to ensure timely repairs.
  • Be cautious during cleanup. Water damage can make your home unstable. Make sure to inspect the home for structural damage before returning. Also, remember to wear protective gear throughout flood cleanup
  • Consider other dangers.
    • During floods, animals set up shop in strange places. Look out for snakes and other critters.
    • Flooding brings mold. Get your home inspected and have individuals with respiratory illnesses stay elsewhere until the issue is resolved.
    • Carbon monoxide is an invisible killer. Don't use portable generators indoors and follow equipment instructions while making repairs to avoid a buildup of this toxic gas.
    • Throw out items that cannot be cleaned with bleach solution. Flood waters can bring dangerous bacteria, and you never want to risk your health.

Floods Vs. Flash Floods

It's important to distinguish the difference between a flood and a flash flood, as well as the difference between a watch and a warning. Knowing the differences can help you stay informed throughout heavy rain events.


"An overflow of water onto normally dry land." This can be caused by heavy rains, debris buildup in a body of water, or ponding in low-lying areas.

Flash Flood

 "A flood caused by heavy or excessive rainfall in a short period of time, generally less than 6 hours. Flash floods are usually characterized by raging torrents [...and] they can occur within minutes or a few hours of excessive rainfall." Flash floods can also happen when no rain has fallen.

This type of flood typically occurs when slow-moving thunderstorms drop excessive rainfall over a specific area, or when debris that has built up in a body of water is suddenly dislodged. 

Fast Fact

If your region has been experiencing a drought or a long dry spell, you're more prone to flooding and flash flooding. This is because the hard, dry ground is less absorbant. This can create a barrier that the water can't break through. In contrast, after regular rains, the soil effectively absorbs the water, making flooding less of a concern.

Flash Flood Watches Vs. Flash Flood Warnings

When the National Weather Service issues a "Watch," it means that all the ingredients are in place for a certain weather condition to occur. In the instance of a "Flash Flood Watch," this would mean that there is heavy rain falling in the area or that heavy rain is forecasted for later that day and that the region has just experienced a dry spell. This puts the region at a higher risk for the potential of a flash flood.

When the National Weather Service issues a "Warning," this means that the forecasted weather condition is currently happening in your area. In the instance of a "Flash Flood Warning," this means that a storm spotter has reported a flash flood, and the area should be avoided at all costs. 

Fascinating Flash Flood Facts 

Flood in Australia

You may think that you can safely drive through an inundated road, but there's no telling how deep the water is or what lies beneath the surface of the water. It takes roughly 40 seconds for an adult to drown and as little as 20 seconds for a child to drown. This is why it is so incredibly important to turn around and find another route if you come across flood waters. It is never worth risking your life or the lives of others.

  • 6 inches of fast moving water, like you would see in a flash flood, can knock over an adult and carry them away.
  • 12 inches of fast moving water can carry away a small car. 
  • 18-24 inches of fast moving water can carry away a truck, SUV, or van.
  • Most flood-related deaths are due to people driving through flood waters.
  • 90% of all natural disasters involve some form of flooding.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that "in the U.S. floods kill more people each year than tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning."

Stay Safe During Floods and Flash Floods

Weather-related deaths are preventable. Staying up to date on the weather forecast and following simple flood safety advice can make all the difference. 

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Flood Safety Tips: How to Prepare for a Flood & Stay Safe