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Severe Weather Awareness | Staying safe in Kentucky's frequent flooding

There are two main types of flooding: flash flooding and river flooding.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Our region has been no stranger to recent floods.

Whether it’s flash flooding from thunderstorms or slowly rising river flooding from a persistent wet weather pattern, flood concerns seem to be more common these days around our area. And believe it or not, each year more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other thunderstorm-related hazard.

Yes, more deadly than tornadoes, lightning and straight-line winds. The main reason is people underestimate the extreme force of water. Many deaths occur in vehicles, as they are swept downstream. Many times, this is a preventable danger.

There are two main types of flooding: flash flooding, which occurs from slow-moving thunderstorms within minutes or hours of the heavy rain, and river flooding, which can take days or weeks of heavy rain, filling river basins with too much water, and causing the rivers to burst its banks.

Flash flooding is the least predictable, and can happen anywhere, and in an instant! Like what we saw in eastern Kentucky last year. Like what happened in Salem, Indiana in 2017, where in just 45 minutes, heavy rain caused millions of dollars in damage and high-water rescues. 

Also, like what happened during the incredible Aug. 4th, 2009, flash flooding in Louisville. On that day, record rainfall amounts of six inches fell within just a few hours. Nearly 200 people were rescued by emergency crews from the tops of cars and houses; thankfully there were no fatalities or injuries.

Now, river flooding is a different monster, and ha been a frequent problem in Louisville. The Ohio River has made it above flood stage four of the last five years. The Ohio River flooding in late February 2018 was the worst since the major flood of 1997; in fact, our 2018 river levels were only two feet lower than in 1997. 

The Ohio River flooding typically happens in late winter and early spring. This is simply a wet time of year, but also plants are dormant, so all the rain just runs off. The Ohio River can flood for days or weeks, while smaller river systems flood faster, but also recede more quickly.

No matter what kind of flooding you may encounter, remember these tips:

  • Turn around, don’t drown and take the time to find a different route. You never know the exact depth of flowing flood waters. Just six inches of rapid water can knock you off your feet, and just two feet of water can sweep away your car. 
  • Never go down into a flooded basement, until you know the electricity has been turned off.

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