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Flooding: Watch or Warning?

March 08, 2021 07:00 AM
By: PEMA

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​Pennsylvania residents and visitors enjoy our state's stunning natural scenery and beautiful scenic river systems. Many towns and cities in Pennsylvania were founded near a river or large creek banks.

Flooding is the most common natural disaster in Pennsylvania, destroying thousands of homes and costing billions of dollars each year. Floods can occur in different ways. Some develop slowly during an extended period of rain or in a warming trend following heavy snow. Others, like flash floods, can happen very quickly, without any visible signs of rain. Even small streams and dry creek beds can overflow to produce flooding. If you receive a flood watch or warning, do you know what to do?

The National Weather Service (NWS) will issue emergency broadcasts, also known as alerts, during severe weather. It is imperative to know what to do when you hear an alert.

Know the Differences

Do you know the differences between a Flood Watch and a Flood Warning? A Watch means “Be Prepared!” A Warning means “Take Action Now!” Let’s dig into what you should know and what you should do.

A Flood Watch is issued when flooding is possible within your area. A Flood Warning is issued when flooding is imminent or occurring.

Flood Watch: Be Prepared!

A Flood Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for flooding. It does not mean flooding will occur, but it is possible. It is typically issued for an area that is many counties in size and is usually issued 12 to 24 hours before flooding is expected to start. With the advance notice of a watch, you will have more time to prepare for the flooding.

  • Go about your normal activities, but make periodic checks of NOAA Weather Radio or other media outlets for updates and possible flood warnings. Listen for river level forecasts from the NWS.
  • Get ready to move your personal property out of the areas that are known to flood.
  • If you live in the flood plain, be prepared to evacuate if ordered to do so.
  • If you live or work in an area prone to flooding, have a safe evacuation route to use if flooding occurs. Make sure everyone in your home or office knows where to go if flooding occurs.
  • Move up to higher ground to escape floodwaters.
  • Keep a battery-operated radio and several working flashlights available.
  • Take precautions to secure your property. 

Flood Warning: Take Action Now!

A Flood Warning is issued when flooding is imminent or occurring. If you are under a flood warning, find a safe shelter right away.

  • Do not walk, swim or drive through floodwaters. Turn Around Don’t Drown!
  • Just six inches of moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.
  • Stay off bridges over fast-moving water.

Depending on the type of flooding:

  • Evacuate if told to do so.
  • Move to higher ground or a higher floor.
  • Stay where you are.

Flood Advisory: Be Aware.

A Flood Advisory is issued when flooding is not expected to be bad enough to issue a warning. However, it may cause significant inconvenience, and if caution is not exercised, it could lead to situations that may threaten life and property.

Most flood-related deaths and injuries could be avoided if people followed this simple advice, Turn Around Don’t Drown. More than 50% of flood-related deaths are due to someone driving or walking into floodwaters.

  • Six inches of fast-moving water can knock adults off their feet and sweep them away.
  • Twelve inches of moving water can carry off a small car.
  • 18 to 24 inches of moving water can carry away larger vehicles, including trucks, vans and SUVs.

If you come to an area covered with water, you may not know the water’s depth or the condition of the road or ground underneath. This is especially true at night when flooding can be harder to see. Play it safe. Whether driving or walking, any time you come to a flooded area, Turn Around Don’t Drown.

To find your community’s flood risk, visit the Pennsylvania Flood Zone Map


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