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Extreme Weather – 3. Dealing with floods


Image by Hermann Traub from Pixabay

As I write there are flood warnings out for southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales with many small towns being evacuated and promises of more rain on the way. While there have always been floods, their number and intensity has increased as the world warms. Higher temperatures of both sea and land lead to increased evaporation and increased rainfall and the number of days of heavy rain have increased every decade in line with global warming. Unfortunately Australia has front row seat when it comes to climate change and should serve as a warning to other countries. Should you have doubts take a look at the video "Hell to Highwater" produced by the BBC earlier this year right after the bushfires.*

The number of flood deaths has also been rising, not just here but in the USA as well. It is the second highest cause of death from weather related phenomena after heatwaves. The USA has recoded an average of 86 deaths a year for most of the last thirty years, but by 2018 the average had risen to 100 per year. 

Many of these fatalities could have been avoided. By far the most common reason for them is people being swept away as they attempted to cross flooded creeks and rivers –around fifty per cent in the USA, but as high as 50 out of 68 in Australia.

 The Australian research shows that the risk is higher in places with moderate flood risk and that people in 4WD’s are particularly vulnerable, in part because advertising for such vehicles implies that they can get through where other vehicles can’t. So here is the first rule courtesy of the US Government website:  

If you see floodwaters, TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN



We saw this when a flash flood unexpectedly struck Hobart in May 2018 and in the never – before -seen floods which struck villages in southern Germany and northern France in May 2016.

Don't be tempted - even if the water looks shallow! The road surface underneath could be damaged or non -existent

Image by Linda Russ from Pixabay

Other ways to protect yourself and your family

  • Keep an eye on weather reports and alerts. Be prepared by making a plan beforehand. Look for high ground nearby or go to the highest floor in your building. Get on the roof if necessary, but stay away from closed -in attics. 
  • Evacuate if you are told to do so, well ahead of rising waters. Do not try to leave, once waters begin to rise. 

  •   Do not try to walk or swim through floodwaters either. Even if the currents aren't strong enough to sweep you away, the waters are likely to be contaminated due to sewerage and storm water overflows
  • Don’t drive over bridges in a flood as they can be destabilised by fast moving water
  • If you are already in your car and find yourself being swept along, don’t try to get out unless the car starts to fill with water. If that happens, climb out and stand on the roof.
  • If you see someone in distress in a river – and not just during floods, don’t put your own life at risk. Many people have drowned trying to rescue others. Stay on firm ground and throw the person needing help a rope or try to reach them with a pole, a branch or a plank.
  • Place any valuable items such as antiques in the highest part of the house, along with copies of important documents – insurance papers, land deeds, passports, and personal papers, in a sealed plastic container and carry an electronic version with you.
  • Make sure gutters and drains are clear well before a flood hits
  • Check your insurance policy to make sure you are covered for flood damage
  • Turn off all appliances including computersand electronics and then turn off power and water

·         Afterwards don’t re –enter until told it’s safe to do so. Floodwaters may be contaminated and full of debris. Don’t turn on any electrical appliances as you can be electrocuted especially if standing in water, wearing wet clothing and so on.

The following short video by the ABC has more

See also the excellent US Government Website which has additional advice, especially when dealing with the pandemic at the same time.

Next in this series: Extreme Weather -4 Surviving severe storms, hurricanes and cyclones, though I'm sure we could all do with a bit of Christmas cheer in between

*PS. The bushfire victims such as those in Cobargo are still living in tents despite all the charitable donations and promises of government support!