Can a Flood Happen to You?
Slowly but surely, it’s getting warmer, and spring will soon be here. But while April showers may bring May flowers, sometimes those showers just bring even more showers with them throughout the spring and summer.
Not to mention, all that melting snow has to go somewhere. Sometimes all that excess water feels the need to make its presence known.
Flooding is actually the most common natural disaster on Earth, in the sense that there are so many “little” ones occurring all the time.
In fact, one could argue flooding helped build modern civilization, since the earliest human societies in the Nile River Valley and the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East were able to prosper specifically because the reliable yearly flooding brought out nutrients in the soil and made large-scale agriculture possible.
Despite occurring all around the globe for as long as anyone can remember, many people don’t think of floods as being on the same level of disaster as a hurricane or a tornado.
However, this same ignorance of how bad they can be can just make floods more dangerous. The question that remains is whether a flood can happen to you.
The short answer is a flood can happen anywhere, but of course, certain places are more at risk than others.
The Most Vulnerable Areas
Areas immediately beside rivers and coastlines are the most commonly effected, hence why they’re often labeled as “floodplains.” When rainstorms are relentless, bodies of water get swollen, and when they overflow, the floodwaters follow the path of least resistance.
That’s why homes in low-lying areas next to water, especially rivers, are often resold at a seemingly cheap price, but cost bundles in insurance because their geography is a liability. (Jeez, talk about an underwater mortgage…)
Where You’d Least Expect It
That said, a particularly bad storm can put not only entire river valleys at risk, but also areas much farther beyond that.
In actuality, almost any area that isn’t literally on the side of a mountain can fall victim to a flood if a storm is bad enough (although if you’re living on a mountainside, I can’t imagine heavy rainfall on sloped land is too great, either).
If an area is flat, in a valley, has extremely dry land and can’t handle the water or simply doesn’t have good natural or manmade drainage systems, water can accumulate there. This is especially the case in the event of a flash flood.
Whereas many floods are the product of long, persistent rainstorms, a flash flood occurs when a storm dumps a lot of water in very little time, and water starts pooling up quickly. Even when the water is shallow, it’s moving fast in the rain and wind, and it can easily sweep people and things off their feet.
“Regular” floods usually develop slowly, and people can often evacuate with time to spare. Flash floods happen, well, in a flash, and that’s what makes them so dangerous.
How Can You Be Prepared?
When Everything’s Fine
First things first: you may have seen TV commercials over the years warning that regular home insurance doesn’t cover flood damage. They weren’t lying to alarm you into buying something. Most “standard” insurance policies really don’t bother protecting from floods.
If you live in an area that’s legally defined as a floodplain, you should certainly try to get flood insurance. But then again, maybe you already have it? Many municipalities mandate homeowners in these areas have protection against floods.
What if you’re not living in a floodplain? Do you buy flood insurance anyway? Know your geography. Maybe you’re not in an official floodplain, but you might not be far from one.
Has there ever been any history of flooding in your area, even if it only happens once every couple of decades? Has it ever happened even once in your area? Do your neighbors have coverage? These are all things to consider.
If you live nowhere near a body of water, I can’t tell you to pay money for protection against a disaster that may never happen, but as mentioned above, it still might.
Either way, it’s a gamble. It could very well be that the best option for you is to skip the insurance and know exactly what you need to do in the unlikeliest of circumstances.
For added protection, prepare your home, which you can’t take with you if you need to leave the area.
Basements are especially prone to flooding even in areas far away from water, but sealing the basement and getting a sump pump working can greatly reduce your risk. Furthermore, just to be safe, it’s probably best not to keep valuables in the basement crawlspace.
Regardless of where you live, be aware of your surroundings. Know where there’s low ground, high ground, wet ground and dry ground. Know the best ways out of your area and where you would be escaping. Know how to make a quick exit if needed. As they say, knowing is half the battle.
When It Happens
We’ll defer to the experts on this one.
- Have a plan and an emergency supply kit
- Don’t drive if you don’t have to, and especially don’t drive into flooded streets
- As much as you can help it, don’t go into the water
- Listen to the proper authorities; if they tell you to evacuate, then evacuate; if they tell you to stay put, then stay put
There’s much more you can do to prepare for and prevent flood damage, but in the time it would take me to write that, you could read it from the links above and probably knock a few of their steps out already.
It should be noted that many environmental scientists insist while flooding is indeed a natural phenomenon, it isn’t supposed to be as bad as it is, at least not in places like the United States.
When a flood occurs in a place like Bangladesh, the most flood-prone country on the planet, it’s because it’s physically in a bad spot and constantly gets hit by monsoons. But when a flood happens in the American Midwest, it can be after a bad thunderstorm that’s still nowhere near as bad as a hurricane on the coast.
These scientists posit that first-world development has seen people construct roads and buildings on top of the natural wetlands that are supposed to absorb even more water to assuage flooding.
Wetlands like these are often adjacent to rivers and lakes or can be in the middle of nowhere thanks to groundwater and natural wells. But they can’t do their job when they’re covered in concrete.
That’s why many developed areas see many smaller floods, which may not be as severe as floods you hear about happening in the developing world, but which arguably shouldn’t have even been as big as they were.
(Also, take note that because the ground is so spongey, structures built atop wetlands are often susceptible to sinking over time and becoming structurally unsound. So, if your house is a block away from the water, a flood might not be your only concern.)
While it’s strange that floods can be so common and yet such an afterthought, it’s also true they most keep happening in the same places.
Perhaps this is for the worst, because this way when they occur where they’re common, people just regard it as normal and don’t think about it, and when they occur when they’re not common, not enough people are prepared.
The only place in the world where it can never rain is the Atacama Desert in northern Chile – it’s something about elevation and air pressure that makes it physically impossible. Unless you live there, you live somewhere it can rain, and if it can rain a little, it can rain a lot.