Hiking is a terrific outdoor activity that millions worldwide do for fun or as a hobby. National parks such as Zion National Park are visited by hundreds of hikers every year. While it is a relatively safe activity, nature poses several threats for hikers. One such threat is a flash flood. So, what do you do if you are caught in a flash flood while on a hike?
If you are caught in a flash flood while hiking, seek higher ground and get up there immediately. Do this as fast as possible because you will not have a lot of time to spare.
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Preparing For Your Hike & Avoiding Flash Floods
Before you leave for a hike, it’s best to plan for your outdoor adventure ahead as it helps you take necessary precautions and may also ensure that you avoid the storm completely.
It’s important to know the weather report as it will help you stay alert for flash flood risks that may happen in your area and the surrounding, especially if you live in a flood zone and/or a mountainous area. You’ll also be able to pack appropriately, armed with the knowledge of likely or unlikely weather conditions.
Flash flood warnings are issued if dangerous flash floods will happen or are already happening in a specific area. Take every flash flood warning seriously; it’s best not to hike if the forecast hints at heavy rain or if there’s already heavy rainfall.
Good knowledge of where you’re going is an important safety tip for hikers. Knowledge of your route helps you avoid dangerous places and situations. Knowing your way during flash flooding ensures you know where to find higher ground, possible escape routes, and how to avoid slot canyons or low-lying areas.
Areas prone to flash floods include places very close to bodies of water like rivers, streams, dams, and creeks. You want to avoid any narrow canyons, dry creek beds, slot canyons, dry washes, etc. Places like these are more prone to flooding during heavy rains.
Sometimes, flash floods occur due to broken dams. This happens without warning, so you must be conscious and alert when you hike through places close to a dam.
Flash floods often occur with little or no warning. Chances are high that you may be caught in one even after thorough preparations as the weather can change rapidly. Flash floods are the second deadliest weather hazard for hikers after extreme heat.
In 2020 alone, more than six thousand deaths were caused by floods worldwide. So, it’s essential to know your surroundings and watch out for signs of danger. Here’s what you should do in the event of flash flooding.
If you’re caught in a rainstorm and notice puddles forming around you, you must immediately act fast and move to higher ground. You may have just minutes to take action as the water rises rapidly during flash floods and you don’t want to be caught in rapidly growing waters.
The same thing applies if you find yourself in a canyon. If you cannot find your way out, find a way to climb the canyon wall, as you cannot escape a wall of water if you get trapped there. A few feet up on that wall can be the difference between life and death in flash flooding.
Flash flooding often catches people unaware, and you may have to decide to ditch costly gear to save human life. In such instances, please do away with any extra gear as you’re going to need to be able to grab onto any sturdy surface you can find.
Excessive weight might be counterproductive and get in your way. Find somewhere safe to keep your gear if there’s time for that. Otherwise, ditch it and focus on survival.
Flood waters move very fast. It takes six inches of fast-flowing water to knock a grown man off his feet, never mind children. The flood can also carry a lot of debris and takes things like tree trunks and rocks off the ground. The result of this can cause blunt force trauma on impact.
Due to high winds, downed power lines pose another severe threat in flood waters. If the only way out is walking through the water, find a stick to poke ahead to avoid things like snakes, floating debris, and harmful objects. Point your feet downstream to avoid falling and breaking your skull when walking.
It is also not safe to drive through moving water. Eagle Creek Outdoor Survival Guide advises that you leave the car and get to safety until the water has receded considerably. A large percentage of deaths in floods are vehicle-related. You don’t want to get trapped in a flooded vehicle, break the windows and get out as quickly as possible.
It’s very easy for an existing stream or river to fill and overflow in flash floods. While it’s best to avoid taking hikes near the river during the rain, Zion National Park advises that you move away from the river once you notice rising water levels and stronger currents.
Move away and towards high ground If that occurs. Riverbeds and surrounding areas tend to be very slippery when wet and may put you in danger of slipping and breaking a bone. You’ll have a harder time getting away if it becomes wet.
Some other things to note as a safety precaution are: the sound of roaring water can also signify danger, and subways are to be avoided in flash floods as there’s a likelihood of the storm drains being overwhelmed.
If you have to get away from a flooded area, it’s best to avoid walking through rushing water altogether. Remember that emergency services find it easier to spot a vehicle than a human so stay close to one.