Turn Around Don’t Drown

Flooded roads can be dangerous.

Traffic ignores road closed signs unaware of the undercut road and its potential for collapse.  24 Mile Road near North Ave,  Macomb County, Michigan 2/22/18.   Photo by I Will Shoot You Photography.
Traffic ignores road closed signs unaware of the undercut road and its potential for collapse. 24 Mile Road near North Ave, Macomb County, Michigan 2/22/18. Photo by I Will Shoot You Photography.

Flooding is not an uncommon occurrence in Michigan, yet many drivers do not know how to handle flooded roads and put themselves in danger. Floods can occur anywhere, with floodwaters rising gradually or flash floods striking suddenly. Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer in the United States — most flood fatalities happen because people try to drive through deadly waters rather than avoid them according to Federal Emergency Management Agency. Drivers tend to overestimate their ability to navigate flooded roads, relying too heavily on their vehicles. In reality, most motorists lose control of their vehicles, including heavier SUVs, in just six inches of water, while 18-24 inches of moving water will force a vehicle off the road. The reason is buoyant force. When the buoyant force is greater than the vehicle’s weight, the vehicle will begin to float and move with the flowing water. Besides the buoyant force, erosion is another significant concern. Moving water is very powerful and can undermine the integrity of a road. A motorist will be unaware they are driving into a scoured out section of the road. 

The National Weather Service (NWS), part of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric and Administration (NOAA) in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have championed the Turn Around Don’t Drown campaign.  The Turn Around Don’t Drown web page offers information and resources for individuals as well as municipalities to better understand the risks of flowing water and how to prevent tragedies associated with it. 

According to the Turn Around Don’t Drown website, each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other thunderstorm related hazard. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. The next highest percentage of flood-related deaths is due to walking into or near flood waters. People underestimate the force and power of water. Many of the deaths occur in automobiles as they are swept downstream. Of these drownings, many are preventable, but too many people continue to drive around the barriers that warn you the road is flooded. A mere 6 inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult. It takes just 12 inches of rushing water to carry away a small car, while 2 feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles. It is NEVER safe to drive or walk into flood waters.

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