Facts about floods: 6 common myths debunked
Last updated: September 2023
Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). But despite their frequency, there are many misconceptions about where and when floods occur. Here's a look at six common flood myths:
Myth #1: My home isn't in a flood zone, so I'm not at risk.
Even properties not located in a flood zone can be at risk of flooding. According to FEMA, more than 25 percent of claims filed through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) are filed by those who live outside of areas considered high risk.
Myth #2: Flash floods only happen near rivers or streams.
While flash floods commonly occur near rivers or streams, other areas are at risk. Dense, urban areas, for example, can be at risk for flash flooding, says the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL). This is because urban areas contain more impermeable surfaces, like highways, parking lots and homes, that decrease the amount of land able absorb rainwater — therefore increasing rainwater runoff. Areas near dams may also be at risk as dam failures can cause flash flood conditions, the NSSL says. This is because a dam breach sends a sudden wall of water downstream.
Myth #3: The risk for flooding goes away in winter.
Floods can actually occur during the winter season due to snowmelt and ice jams, says the National Weather Service (NWS). A sudden rise in temperature or heavy rainfall when spring is approaching can quickly melt snow and cause flooding. An ice jam happens when sudden warm temperatures cause ice formations along rivers or streams to break up. When these chunks of ice are carried along a river's current, they can build up near a bridge or other structures and block the normal flow of water, says the NWS. An ice jam can cause flooding upstream due to water being held back. Or, the ice jam can break apart suddenly and release water buildup that causes flooding downstream.
Myth #4: You can drive through floodwater if it's not too deep.
It only takes 12 inches of water to quickly sweep away your car or cause it to float, says the NWS. The agency also warns that it can be difficult to gauge the depth of floodwater — it may be deeper than it appears. Another reason to avoid driving through floodwater is because it may be hiding additional hazards, such as a washed-out road, sharp debris or electrical wires, says the NWS. Remember this NWS slogan: Turn Around Don't Drown®.
Myth #5: It's safe to walk through floodwater.
Don't underestimate the power of fast-moving water. Just 6 inches of floodwater can knock an adult off their feet, says the NWS. Floodwater can also be contaminated by sewage or chemicals, and can hide other debris that may cause injuries. If you must enter the water, remember to wear rubber boots, gloves and other protective gear, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Myth #6: If my house starts to flood, I should try to leave.
You shouldn't attempt to walk or drive through floodwater, says Ready.gov. Remember, it only takes 6 inches of water to sweep you off your feet or 12 inches of water to wash away your car. If your home begins to flood and you cannot safely evacuate, seek higher ground immediately by moving to a higher level of your home, while avoiding closed spaces, such as attics. This is because you could become trapped by rising floodwater, according to Ready.gov. As a last resort, move onto the roof and signal for help.
When it comes floods, remember that they can happen anywhere at anytime. It's a good idea to plan an evacuation route and create a grab-and-go emergency kit so you and your family can be more prepared if a flood strikes.