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My document Flood Safety and Flood Awareness
My document National Flood Safety Awareness Week
March 17-21, 2014

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2014 Forecasts

The National Weather Service kicks off its Flood Safety Awareness Week campaign today with the theme of Flood Safety - Preparedness and Awareness.

Floods and flash floods are the number one cause of deaths associated with thunderstorms in the United States. It floods somewhere in the U.S. or its territories nearly every day of the year. Flooding causes more damage in the United States than any other weather related event...with an average of $8 billion a year and an average of 89 fatalities per year in the past thirty years. Flooding can occur in any of the 50 states or U.S. territories at anytime of the year ... sometimes very quickly. Being prepared in advance and knowing a few flood safety tips will help you and your family survive a flood if it happens in your area.

Knowing your risk in advance is the best way to prepare for flooding of any type. Many of our partners provide information to help you determine if you live in a flood prone area. For example...our federal partner FEMA has an online map service center that you can visit to see if you live in a flood plain. Also knowing if there is a dam or levee system in your area is important. Sometimes it's obvious if a dam or levee is in your area...other times it's not...especially if you have just moved into the area or are only visiting. Another federal partner...the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has information about many dams and levee systems. But they don't own or control all of them. Contact the local NWS office - it is a great resource to find out about dams and levees in your area and the risk associated with them. If a dam or levee fails...flash flooding can happen very quickly. You need to know what to do before it happens.

In Montana, flooding can occur anytime and anywhere. Remember...six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock you off your feet, and a depth of less than two feet will float most vehicles, including sport utility vehicles. While most floods cannot be prevented...there are simple steps you can take to protect your life and property.

The National Weather Service web page identifies where flooding is expected or occurring. You can access this information by visiting the NWS website 24 hours a day...7 days a week...365 days a year...for the most up to date weather, flood, and emergency information. The NWS mobile website can also be accessed by many mobile devices and smart phones.

NOAA all hazards radio is another way to receive any type of emergency information - including emergency flood information - very quickly. NOAA All Hazards Radio is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather, river and other emergency information direct from nearby NWS offices and emergency officials. You can purchase an all hazards radio from many eletronics stores and they can be programmed to receive information specific to your area if the radio contains the specific area message encoding capability...SAME. Your local NWS office can help you with the necessary codes and programming if you have any trouble getting your all hazards radio programmed. Also all hazards radios can be portable if they have a battery back up and can come in handy on trips where you need to know important weather information including information on current flood risks.

Knowing your flood risk, how to prepare for and actions to take before, during, and after a flood can save you time, money, and even your life. Prepare now, and be a force of nature!

If flooding occurs...

  • Move to higher ground immediately and stay away from flood prone areas.
  • Do not allow children to play near high water, storm drains or ditches. Hidden dangers often lie beneath the water.
  • Flooded roads can have significant damage hidden by floodwaters. Never drive on a flooded road.
  • Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams or washes... particularly when threatening weather conditions exist.
  • Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

Is flooding really that big a deal?
Flooding causes more damage in the United States than any other weather related event...an average of $8 billion a year. Flooding can occur in any of the 50 states or united states territories at anytime of the year.

How can I find out if I am in danger from a flood?
NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards is one of the best ways to receive warnings from the National Weather Service. NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather and river information direct from nearby nws offices. Also...the NWS web page identifies where flooding is occurring: water.weather.gov/ahps.

How do I know how severe a flood will be?
Once a river reaches flood stage...the flood severity categories used by the NWS include minor flooding...moderate flooding...and major flooding. Each category has a definition based on property damage and public threat.

  • Minor flooding - Minimal or no property damage...but possibly some public threat or inconvenience.
  • Moderate flooding - Some inundation of structures and roads near streams. Some evacuations of people and...or transfer of property to higher elevations are necessary.
  • Major flooding - Extensive inundation of structures and roads. Significant evacuations of people and...or transfer of property to higher elevations.

The impacts of a floods vary locally. For each NWS river forecast location...flood stage and the stage associated with each of the NWS flood severity categories are established in cooperation with local public officials. Increasing river levels above flood stage constitute minor...moderate...and major flooding. Impacts vary from one river location to another because a certain river stage height in one location may have an entirely different impact than the same level above flood stage at another location.

What's the difference between a flood and flash flood?
A flood occurs when prolonged rainfall over several days...intense rainfall over a short period of time...or an ice or debris jam causes a river or stream to overflow and flood the surrounding area. Melting snow can combine with rain in the winter and early spring. Severe thunderstorms can bring heavy rain in the spring and summer. Tropical cyclones can bring intense rainfall to the coastal and inland states in the summer and fall.

A flash flood occurs within six hours of a rain event...or after a dam or levee failure...or following a sudden release of water held by an ice or debris jam. Flash floods can catch people unprepared. You will not always have a warning that these deadly...sudden...floods are coming. If you live in areas prone to flash floods...plan now to protect your family and property.

Is there anything I can do to prepare for a flood?
How to reduce potential flood damage and what to include in a family disaster plan can be obtained from the American Red Cross. The NWS works with and relies on strategic partners involved in floodplain management, flood hazard mitigation, flood preparedness and flood warnings to reduce the loss of life and property due to floods. Key partners include

  • United States Geological Survey (USGS)
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • National Hydrologic Warning Council
  • Association of State Floodplain Managers
  • American Red Cross
  • National Safety Council
  • Federal Alliance for Safe Homes
  • The Weather Channel and other media outlets
  • many other government and private sector organizations.

What should I do if flooding occurs?

  • Move to higher ground immediately and stay away from flood prone areas.
  • Do not allow children to play near high water, storm drains or ditches. Hidden dangers often lie beneath the water.
  • Flooded roads can have significant damage hidden by floodwaters. Never drive on a flooded road.
  • Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams or washes...particularly when threatening weather conditions exist.
  • Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

These are just a few tips to help you prepare for a flood. For more information.please visit our flood safety awareness website.

The National Weather Service issues flood watches and warnings when flooding is expected or occurring. NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio is one of the best ways to receive this information. Additionally, National Weather Service offices in Montana post flood watches and warnings on their web sites...







A Northeast Montana Near Death Flash Flood Experience


This account was written by a young woman swept off
Highway 2 in northeast Montana by a flash flood.
The names of those involved have been changed to protect their privacy.


FlashFloodCar FlashFloodCar2

It was early that morning in Glacier National Park when my travel buddy, Carla, and I were set to take off on the final leg of our wild summer trip. We had spent the night in one of my favorite national parks with my father who resides in northern Idaho. My family and I had traveled there about ten years ago, and I was dying, at the age of twenty-one, to refresh my faded childhood memory of the towering mountains, frigid waters, and abundant wildlife. Before my father and I bid farewell, we spent the morning hiking Logan's Pass. After one last hug, I jumped in my little Honda Civic with my pal, and we sped off leaving my wonderland.

My father had suggested that we take highway 2 across Montana because it was scenic. Eventually we were to reach Interstate 94 in North Dakota. It was a beautiful day in northern Montana. I drove all day and into the night.

At this point in our three week vacation we thought ourselves to be pros at driving all day and all night. Just two weeks ago we had left our apartments in Greensboro, North Carolina at 10:14 PM and drove twenty-seven hours straight to Denver, Colorado. It was a relatively smooth trip, but we both had realized that driving twenty-seven hours straight was pushing the needle too far.

At around 10:30 at night we had reached Glasgow, Montana. We had decided to fill up with gas because we had noticed that there were not too many places to stop on highway 2. I had also given up my shift of driving. I sat in the passenger's seat, put my seatbelt on, got my pillow, and made myself comfortable. We put on an Indigo Girls CD and we took off. It began to rain a bit. It did not seem that bad, so I just told Carla to be careful. I started to become very sleepy, so I put the chest strap of my seatbelt behind the seat and fell asleep.

In one instant my life has changed forever. I wake up to the sound of water hitting the bottom of my car, as if we were hydroplaning and the screams of Carla. "Oh my God, oh my God,Sarah!" After becoming aware of my surroundings, I realize that my car is floating. Carla tried opening the door. I saw her push and push and push, but her door was stuck. I tried my door and some how I found the strength to push it open. Water rushed in my lap and filled the car. I had Carla crawl over me and out my door. Then she grabs my hand and says, "Come on Sarah." I couldn't get out. I was stuck. Carla was franticly pulling on my seatbelt, but she was pulling the wrong way. Amidst all the floating debris in the car, I was able to press the seatbelt release and then I escaped the car. The water was ice cold. So cold, it took my breath away. Automatically I tried to touch the bottom to stand, but I could not touch. The water level was well over my head. I gasped for air and was swiftly moving down this river. I will forever have the vision of my Civic floating down the river, with the tail end in the air, the door open, and a little light on in the car.

At around 10:30 at night we had reached Glasgow, Montana. We had decided to fill up with gas because we had noticed that there were not too many places to stop on highway 2. I had also given up my shift of driving. I sat in the passenger's seat, put my seatbelt on, got my pillow, and made myself comfortable. We put on an Indigo Girls CD and we took off. It began to rain a bit. It did not seem that bad, so I just told Carla to be careful. I started to become very sleepy, so I put the chest strap of my seatbelt behind the seat and fell asleep.

In one instant my life has changed forever. I wake up to the sound of water hitting the bottom of my car, as if we were hydroplaning and the screams of Carla. "Oh my God, oh my God,Sarah!" After becoming aware of my surroundings, I realize that my car is floating. Carla tried opening the door. I saw her push and push and push, but her door was stuck. I tried my door and some how I found the strength to push it open. Water rushed in my lap and filled the car. I had Carla crawl over me and out my door. Then she grabs my hand and says, "Come on Sarah." I couldn't get out. I was stuck. Carla was franticly pulling on my seatbelt, but she was pulling the wrong way. Amidst all the floating debris in the car, I was able to press the seatbelt release and then I escaped the car. The water was ice cold. So cold, it took my breath away. Automatically I tried to touch the bottom to stand, but I could not touch. The water level was well over my head. I gasped for air and was swiftly moving down this river. I will forever have the vision of my Civic floating down the river, with the tail end in the air, the door open, and a little light on in the car.

I lost sight of Carla, but I hear her say, "We've got to swim Sarah." I replied, "Don't fight it." In the back ground I hear the roar of a train. The shriek of its horn is pounding in my ears. I saw the train's headlight, and at that moment I prepared my self for my upcoming death.

There was a bank of land on my left side, I was moving rapidly past it, so I tried to grip the grass. The grass was tearing up from the roots. The river is taking me away but I kept on fighting, and finally at the end of the bank I slam my hands into the earth and got a good grip and pulled myself on the bank. I stand up, but I can't see a thing. I can not even see my hand in front of my own face. It was the darkest dark I had ever experienced. Suddenly, I become aware of the flashes of lightning. In the light I notice that I was surrounded by fast moving water.

I began to shout Carla's name, over and over again. I finally heard her. She is on the same bank. I wanted to run to her, but I could not see. I began to walk, but only when there was a flash of lightning because I did not want to loose my footing and slip back into a watery death. As soon as I get to her, she was laying on her back with her arms over her head gripping grass. Her helpless body was slipping back into the water. I got to her just in time to grab her bodyand lift her to safety.

For some reason my mind and body shifted to survival mode, but Carla looked like a deer caught in headlights. Thinking back on our frame of minds, I am glad that it was this way because we had no time to argue or have conflict on how we should save ourselves.

I felt that we had to get off this little island because I thought that the water would rise and submerge us. Right before we began to move off the bank, Carla stops me. She had to use the bathroom, so she pulls down her pants and let the river flow, no pun intended. After the fact she had absolutely no recollection of having relieved herself in the middle of a flash flood.

We make the move to the water. I decided to go first to test the current because I was wearing sneakers and out-weighed Carla. It was deep, and the level rose to our chest at its deepest point. Then the level began to decrease the further we went. After visiting the sight later, we discovered that it was a ditch that we crossed to get to the road. We fought our way through water that was thigh high to the road, shoving tree branches along the way. We finally made it to the road.

On the road the water was up to our knees. We walked further and the depth started to subside. Once we knew we were on solid ground we stopped to gather ourselves. Carla began to freak out about the car and all our stuff. I tried to calm her down and tell her that none of that stuff mattered and I was glad to be alive.

It was freezing cold out, and Carla had no shoes on her feet. I had her jump on my back and I walked. It really didn't feel like that far, but it was probably about two miles. We saw a trailer on the right hand side of the road. I made Carla stay on the road as I approached the trailer to knock on the door. I feared that we were two vulnerable girls in a very unfamiliar place and I wanted to be as safe as possible. I banged and banged on the door, but there was no answer. I ran back to the road and we kept on walking.

There was a car off in the distance driving up and down the road. Back and forth, back and forth. We tried to flag the car down, but it turned around and started to drive off. Suddenly, it stopped. As soon as it stopped, I instantly wished that it hadn't. I was scared, but I approached the car anyway. It turned out to be two ladies and a child. I told them that I didn't want a ride, but I just wanted to know where we could locate a phone. We finally got in the car and they took us to a bar. A woman at the bar called 911 on her cell phone.

It felt like an eternity before the police came. All of the people in the bar were amazed by our story. They were all very kind and caring. The women that gave us a ride retrieved us some old clothes to wear. The police came and they went down the road and said that they couldn't find our car. They wanted us to go with them, but I adamantly refused. Eventually they drove us to a police station and we found refuge in the Big Sky Motel in Wolf Point.

The next day when we saw the car, I was in disbelief. Our belongings, which had once been on my car, were scattered all over the place. It was like seeing the place for the first time. I thought that we were in a river, but I found out the next day that it was just low lying land.

I cannot say that I would do anything differently because I was in complete survival mode. I had no control over my actions. It was like something else took over my body and mind and brought us to safety. If anyone else was caught in a similar situation, I would tell them to stay calm and follow your instincts. Though I had no concept of time, I think that from the time of the accident to finding safety in the bar probably took about 30 to 45 minutes.

I do know that next time I decide to travel, I will listen to the weather throughout the course of my journey. Most importantly, I would like to thank all the people who helped us through our troubling time. It really restored my faith in the kindness of strangers. Everyone treated us like we were old friends, or even family members. Every detail about those few days remains fresh in my head, including all the helpful people.


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