SURVIVE THE STORM: The dangers of flooding in the Ozarks

Published: Mar. 28, 2019 at 4:21 PM CDT
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Flooding is one of the biggest dangers we face here in the Ozarks, when small streams like this turn into raging waters.

In the last 25 years, about 80 people have lost their lives to flash floods in the Ozarks. A majority of those killed entered the water in their vehicle.

In the Ozarks, flooding often occurs during nighttime thunderstorms. Dark rainy conditions make it difficult to see the danger ahead. Water depth markers can be hard to see from a distance or may be under water. The Ozarks plateau offers a unique forecasting hazard.

“A lot of it is terrain induced," said Dave Gaede of the National Weather Service. "I mean it depends on the type of drainage basin that you are dealing with or the slope of the basin or even the shape.”

Six inches of water can reach the bottom of most passenger cars. One foot of water can float a small car. Two feet of water will carry off most vehicles including SUV’s and pickups. There are an estimated 3,000 low water crossings in the Ozarks. City and county road crews do their best to barricade trouble spots.

“It’s a good deterrent if the public heeds that deterrence," said Larry Woods, Greene County Emergency Manager. "We run into situations however where maybe folks drive around the barricades and don’t necessarily heed those warnings.”

Road crews often find them moved or vandalized. The main rule for flooding safety is never enter rapidly flowing water either in a vehicle or on foot. Once the vehicle begins to float it is at the mercy of the river and its dangers. Hazards include fence posts, barbed wire, rocks, trees, hay bales, trash and hypothermia. Rescue may not come quickly either.

“When we get one water rescue call we get multiple calls because it is a flash flood event," said Captain Jay Lisenby Springfield Water Rescue. "So if we have to respond from our station going to the county it could be twenty to thirty minutes.”

If you get caught in the water get out of your car immediately. Roll down or break the window and swim to shore or hang onto a tree until rescue arrives. All of the experts agree the best advice for safety is to Turn Around Don’t Drown.