Inland Flooding Impacts from Hurricanes
Historically, Virginia has suffered significant damage and loss of life from tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes that originally made landfall in other states.
Flooding and wind impacts from these storms – depending on their size, speed and path – can extend many miles inland.
In 1969, by the time Hurricane Camille reached the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia it was no longer classified as a Category 5 storm. It had pummeled the Mississippi coast and surrounding areas after making near the Gulf of Mexico. The storm lingered several days over central Virginia, dropping more than 27 inches of rain on Nelson County, causing about $113 million in storm related damages and killing more than 150 people in Virginia alone.
It was Camille’s flooding, rather than her wind speed or storm surge, that caused so much devastation in Virginia. More recently, flooding far inland in Virginia from both Hurricane Isabel (2003) and Tropical Storm Gaston (2004) cost the state billions of dollars in damages.
Isabel also left 36 people dead in Virginia. There were nine deaths associated with Gaston. While falling trees and other circumstances caused some of these deaths, a number were caused by motorists driving into flooded roadways. The National Weather Service warns that if you cannot see the road or its markings, do not drive through the water to use the roadway.
If you must drive during a storm
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) offers the following safety recommendations to motorists who have to be on the road during flooding and high winds:
- Expect the unexpected. Be prepared to slow or stop quickly and without warning.
- At night, drive at a speed that enables you to stop quickly and safely within the distance illuminated by the vehicle’s headlights.
- Never drive through water flowing across a road. It takes only six to 12 inches of water to float a small vehicle.
- Do not drive around barricades. Remember, the road has been closed for your safety.
- Slow down when driving through standing water. Driving too fast through water could cause you to lose control of your vehicle because of hydroplaning.
- Avoid flood-prone areas, especially along creeks and other low-lying areas.
- If a flash flood warning is broadcast, seek high ground immediately.
- Be alert for tree limbs and other debris in the roadway. Even small branches and other debris can damage your car or cause you to lose control.
- Assume all fallen power lines are electrified and dangerous. Never attempt to drive across, step over or move fallen utility lines.
- The danger is greatest in areas where trees are near or overhanging the roadway. Use extra caution when driving in those areas.
- If you come across a flooded road that is not barricaded, turn around and use an alternate route. Help other motorists by notifying VDOT at 1-800-FOR-ROAD (1-800-367-7623) at your earliest and safest opportunity.
In the past 30 years, 60 percent of those who died as a result of a hurricane were drowned. Of the children under 13 who died, 78 percent died as a result of inland flooding.
For information about how to prepare for all types of emergencies, visit www.vaemergency.gov/readyvirginia