The Washington Post

Exposed: Reckless commuters driving through flooded roads

Bus about to cross flooded area at Fox Mill and Waples Mill roads in Oakton, Virginia this morning. (Kevin Ambrose)

I’m on a mission. To discourage motorists from driving through flooded roads. It puts them at danger, their passengers, and the first responders called in to carry out swift water rescues. (Not to mention, it’s not good for the vehicle.)

In Fairfax County, emergency workers rescued 10 people early in the morning who were trapped in their cars after attempting to drive through flooded areas, though nobody was seriously injured, county officials said.  In Montgomery County, crews responded to “7 or 8″ vehicles stranded in high water.

I’m continually amazed by the number of photos I see of vehicles attempting to pass through flooded roads in big rain events in D.C. It’s a seriously risky practice.

I’ll let the National Weather Service, the brains behind the “Turn around, don’t drown” public safety campaign, explain why no one should do this:

Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other severe weather related hazard. The Centers for Disease Control report that over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. . . .

Why? The main reason is 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 six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult. It takes only two feet of rushing water to carry away most vehicles. This includes pickups and SUVs.

In fairness, not everyone caught in their car in a flash flood situation is negligent. Sometimes water sweeps into an area so fast there is no escape. This happened to veteran broadcast meteorologist Dick Goddard in northern Ohio Monday night. Fox8 out of Cleveland explains:

As he drove on the Interstate 71 exit ramp to State Route 3 in Medina Township, he was following a car and noticed a little water.

Before he knew it, water came rushing out of nowhere and began to enter his car.

Goddard was rescued just in the nick of time.

I’m not sure if shame is the best strategy for deterring this practice, but here’s a compilation of photos from our social media feeds of people driving through flooded roads this morning.

Via Meghan Howard on Facebook: “Flooding on Woodfield Road south of Damascus this morning. Amazed by the number of people driving through this fast moving water! (I turned around after this photo).”

I understand.  We’re all busy and have places to be.  But the risk is not worth it. Turn around, don’t drown.

Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.
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Jason Samenow · May 16, 2014

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