Forest Officials Issue Alert about Flash Flood Danger

Cars can be easily swept away by flood waters.
Cars can be easily swept away by flood waters.

National forest officials have issued a flash flood bulletin for nearby communities and people who camp outdoors. A flash flood is a serious weather event for forest visitors because rising flood water is extremely dangerous—a sudden surge can claim victims in less than one minute.

Any intense, heavy rain that falls in a short amount of time can create flash flood conditions in a low-lying area, according to the National Weather Service, and it can happen at a moment’s notice any time of the year.

“Many of our neighbors like to camp overnight in the forest,” explained Kristin Bail, forest supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina. “Sometimes visitors camp in low-lying areas because they spent the day along the river. But a sudden rush of water toward their camp site would put them in immediate danger.”

More Information

During a flash flood, rapidly rising water can reach heights of 30 feet or more. The velocity of a flood surge can easily roll boulders and vehicles, tear out trees, destroy bridges and undermine roads. A low-lying area can become a death trap in a matter of minutes.

“There is very little time to react,” said Bail. “Forest visitors need to be more conscious about sudden storms. Families should discuss how they would alert each other and climb to safety if rushing water arrives.”

Weather experts say the best defense is to be weather-ready before a storm hits.

Forest officials are asking neighbors to check the National Weather Service forecast before they leave home, and to be alert for changing weather conditions while visiting the forest. Devices like a weather radio, a terrestrial radio, a smart-phone app or a cell phone mobile alert can help visitors stay tuned-in before and during their outdoor activities.

Statistics show that most flash floods in the U.S. occur after dark, when campers are asleep. According to the Forest Service, national forests are popular places to sleep under the stars.

“People from nearby communities come camping all year,” said Bail. “They need to be weather-ready every time they visit the forest. Outdoor safety isn't something to brush off or take lightly.”

“When a flash flood strikes at night, it's nearly impossible to know how deep and fast the water is,” said Bail. “It’s noisy. It’s dark. And it’s disorienting to wake up suddenly during a storm. You have to act quickly.”

The National Weather Service is our nation’s exclusive and trusted source for weather forecasts and warnings. Their meteorologists use the most advanced flood warning and forecast system in the world to protect lives and property.

Whenever severe weather is forecasted, forest visitors need to go home early. While outdoors, always be alert for sudden storms and the sound of rushing water.

As with all remote and rural locations in the United States, city sirens don’t exist out in nature. Forest rangers always remind visitors, “Your safety is your own responsibility every time you leave home and head outdoors, no matter where you go.”

Core Facts

  1. Flash floods can occur with little or no warning. Many occur after dark, when it is difficult to assess the severity of the conditions.
  2. When visiting a forest always be alert for heavy rains and sudden changes in the weather, especially at night.
  3. Your safety is your own responsibility. Remember, city sirens don’t exist out in nature.
  4. Camping and recreating along streams and rivers can be risky if thunderstorms are in the area. A creek only 6 inches deep can swell to a 10-foot-deep raging river in less than an hour if a thunderstorm lingers upstream or nearby.

When water rises at a camp site or recreation area, climb to higher ground immediately. If traveling, do not drive across roads that are covered with water. Make safe choice.

Flash Flood Bulletin

Click here to download the Flash Flood Bulletin graphic (above).

Audio files

Stevin Westcott, public affairs officer, National Forests in North Carolina

  1. Audio feature 017.wav, 15 seconds

    “When visiting a forest always be alert for heavy rains and sudden changes in the weather, especially at night. Whenever severe weather is forecasted, go home or stay home. Your safety is your own responsibility. Remember, city sirens don’t exist out in nature.”

  2. Audio feature 026.wav, 21 seconds

    “A smart phone app or cell phone mobile alert can help you stay tuned-in to weather conditions before and during your outdoor activities. But remember, your cellular provider may not offer services and alerts in remote outdoor locations like forests and wilderness areas. But do whatever you can, though, to receive National Weather Service forecasts and warnings.”