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Georgia Flash Floods

A flash flood is a sudden flooding of land, usually with water from weather events like heavy rainfall, storm surge, melting snow, and ice jams. Non-weather events like dam or levee failure can also cause flash flooding. The distinctive feature of this flooding is their unpredictability and incredible speed. Unlike other types of floods, flash floods occur quickly and with little or no warning, thereby limiting the time to prepare for them. Nevertheless, it is possible to prepare for this natural hazard in advance.

Flash Floods Science

Flash flooding usually occurs a few minutes or hours after excessive rainfall from thunderstorms. This disaster may also arise due to dam or levee failure, snow melt, or a sudden release of water held by ice jams. When rain falls over a long period of time, it can cause lakes and rivers to overflow their banks and lead to flash flooding. Likewise, in coastal areas, hurricane-related storm surges can cause sea levels to rise and result in severe flooding.

The occurrence of flash floods in an area usually depends on different factors, including vegetation cover, soil type, and land use. These factors affect what happens to precipitation (rainfall) when it reaches the ground. For example, impermeable, rocky soils have low infiltration rates and cause rapid runoff during heavy rainfall. Also, urban areas have less vegetation cover and more hard surfaces (e.g., roads and driveways) that prevent the rain from sinking into the ground. Eventually, the build-up of water results in flash flooding.

Flash Floods Impacts

Flash floods are extremely powerful and can cause enormous damage when they occur. Some devastating effects of this disaster include:

Loss of Lives and Injuries

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), flash floods are the number one severe weather killer in the U.S. They can be very deadly and can cause significant loss of life and mass injuries. Since flash floods are very fast and unpredictable, they can carry people away in fast-moving water or even drown them. The national 30-year average for flood deaths in the U.S. is around 127 people annually. NWS records that nearly half of all flash flood fatalities are vehicle-related—mostly from people attempting to drive through floods.

Property Damage

Flash flooding can cause enormous property damage—it only takes six inches of floodwater to wash a car away. This natural disaster can roll boulders and cause structural damage to buildings. Also, homes that have been flooded are prone to molds, which are harmful to human health.

Destruction of Crops and Livestock

Flash floods can destroy crops, uproot trees, and drown animals. Floodwaters also carry toxic compounds and large amounts of debris that can damage arable land.

Loss of Public Infrastructure

Floodwaters and large debris can destroy critical infrastructures such as roads, bridges, and power lines. They can disrupt telephone, cable lines, electricity, and water supply.

Economic Losses

The high cost of relief and recovery associated with floods can cause devastating economic impacts in a community. Flash flooding can hinder business activities and lead to loss of livelihoods. This disaster can also affect long-term investments in infrastructure and can cripple a community's economic growth.

Mass Displacement and Migration

When flooding frequently occurs in an area, it can cause loss of livelihoods and other economic impacts. This can trigger mass migration or population displacement. Mass migration to cities can lead to overcrowding and can affect urban planning and development. This situation increases the number of urban poor and also creates more economic problems in urban areas.

Psychological Impacts on Residents

Damage from flash floods (loss of loved ones, displacement from one's home, etc.) can traumatize victims for long periods. The loss of livelihoods and disruption to business activities can cause anxiety and stress in survivors of flash floods.

Georgia Flash Flood Threat Profile

The state of Georgia is located in the Southeastern region of the U.S. It is bordered by Tennessee and North Carolina to the north, South Carolina to the northeast, the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast, Florida to the south, and Alabama to the west. The state has an area of 59,425 square miles and a population of 10,799,566 (2021). This makes Georgia the 24th-largest state in area and the 8th most populous of the 50 U.S. states.

Over the years, the state has experienced heavy rainfall and river overflow, which led to flash flooding. Counties like Atlanta, Glynn, Savannah, Fulton, Augusta-Richmond, St Simons, and Columbus are known to have a high risk of flooding. Here are some historic floods in Georgia:

Flood Date Affected Areas Number of Fatalities Dollar in Damage
North Georgia Epic Flooding September 2009 Atlanta Metro Area and Northwest Georgia 10 $300 Million
Tropical Storm Alberto Flood July 1994 Central and Southwest Georgia 33 (31 in Georgia, 2 in Alabama) $750 Million in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida
Chattahoochee River Flood December 8 to 12, 1919 Atlanta to Columbus, Georgia 3 More than $1,000,000
1938 Whitestone Flood April 7, 1938 Whitestone, Georgia 13 Tens of thousands
Record Flooding in Rome, Georgia March 30 to April 2, 1886 Northwest Georgia Unknown Tens of thousands

When Is Georgia Flash Flood Season?

Although there is no specific flood season in Georgia, most floods occur after winter snow melts or heavy spring rains. During winter months, the state experiences heavy snowfall that causes flooding in many areas. This is usually between November and late March. Seasonal tropical storms during summer and fall can also cause serious flooding in Georgia. This type of flooding is common in coastal and nearby inland areas in the state.

Preparing for Flash Floods in Georgia

Preparing for a flash flood before it occurs is the best way to keep you and your family safe. Consider the following safety tips when making preparations for a flash flood:

Assess Your Flood Risk

Find out if you live in a flood-prone or high-risk area. You can use flood maps or contact your local emergency management office to learn more about your community's risk of flooding. Knowing your flood risk helps you to make adequate preparations for the disaster.

Stay Informed

Stay updated by monitoring weather forecasts and receiving alerts before an emergency. You can sign up for community alerts or listen to local news from TV, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, and other media.

Create a Family Emergency Plan

If you live in an area vulnerable to flash flooding, you should have a flood disaster plan for your family. This plan contains how you will prepare when a flash flood occurs. Your emergency plan should provide for your evacuation plans, how you and your family will reunite if separated during the emergency, and your meeting point after the disaster. Make sure everyone in your household knows what is in your flood disaster plan. Also, do not forget to include your pets in your plan.

Assemble a Flood Emergency Kit

You should assemble an emergency kit ahead of time in case you need to evacuate during a flash flood. Your flood emergency kit should contain the following essential items:

  • Canned food

  • Bottled water

  • Medications

  • First aid kit

  • Flashlight

  • Multi-purpose tool

  • Duct tape

  • Extra cash

  • Extra clothing

  • Blankets

  • Battery-powered radio

  • Extra batteries

  • Copies of important documents, such as personal IDs, birth certificates, medical records, insurance policies, and so on. Store these papers in a waterproof container to keep them from being damaged.

Get Flood Insurance

You should meet with your insurance provider and discuss your insurance options. Since standard homeowner's policy does not cover damage from flash floods, you will need to get flood insurance. Make sure you have enough coverage to protect your home and belongings. You should also get flood insurance ahead of time since there is a 30-day waiting period before policyholders can make claims.

Preparing Your Home for a Flash Flood in Georgia

  • If you live in a flood-prone area, raise your furnace, electric panel, and water heater to reduce damage from floodwaters.

  • Check if municipal building codes allow you to construct barriers such as levees, berms, and flood walls to prevent floodwaters from entering your home.

  • Bring inside all outdoor furniture and move important items to higher floors of your home to avoid water damage.

  • Ask a professional to install check valves in your plumbing to prevent floodwater from entering and clogging the drains of your home.

  • Make sure walls in basements are sealed with waterproofing materials to avoid seepage through cracks.

  • Use sandbags to protect your home from floodwaters. Also, make sure you have other emergency building materials like plastic sheeting, plywood, shovel, hammer, lumber, nails, saw, and pry bar.

  • Take pictures and videos of your home and belongings for insurance purposes. Store these records in a safe-deposit box or cloud storage service to prevent flood damage.

Preparing Your Vehicle for a Flash Flood in Georgia

  • Pack a car emergency kit in your trunk, which should contain supplies like food, water, a flashlight, a first-aid kit, a mobile phone and car charger, a battery booster cable, and emergency flares or reflectors.

  • Park your vehicle on higher ground to reduce the chances of it getting flooded.

  • Fill up your car's gas tank and check all fluid levels.

  • Use waterproof flood covers to protect your vehicle and reduce the risk of flooded engines.

  • Make sure the windows and doors of your car are closed. This is to prevent water damage to the interior.

  • Check your car and car parts (e.g., tires and windshield wipers) and ensure they are in good condition.

  • Disconnect your car's battery to prevent permanent electrical damage from floodwaters.

  • Do not park your vehicle under power lines or trees. They can fall on your car during a flash flood.

Preparing Your Pets for a Flash Flood in Georgia

  • Prepare a pet emergency kit in case you may need to leave your home. This should contain pet supplies such as pet food and water, pet medications, blankets, crates and carriers, a pet first aid kit, a litter box, a collar, a leash, and a harness.

  • Be sure your pets are tagged or microchipped. This will help you reunite with your pets if you are separated from them during an emergency.

  • Find an animal shelter ahead of time where you can take your pets during a flash flood. You can ask a family member or friend in advance if they can pet-sit for you temporarily.

  • Take your pets when practicing evacuation routes with your family. This will help prepare your pets for an actual emergency.

  • Create a neighborhood buddy system that allows your pet parent neighbors to watch out for your pets during an emergency.

  • Place "pet inside" stickers on your front door to inform rescuers that you have pets in your home in need of help.

Flash Flood Warnings and Alerts

The NWS is responsible for issuing flash flood warnings and alerts in Georgia. Some of these alerts include:

  • Flood Watch: This alert is sent out when conditions are favorable for flooding to occur. This does not mean that flooding will occur, but it is possible. The NWS issues this alert to give the public time to prepare for the disaster. If you are under a Flood Watch, it is advisable to review your emergency plan, stay informed, and be ready to take necessary steps if a warning is issued.

  • Flash Flood Warning: The NWS issues this alert when a flash flood is imminent or already happening. Once this warning is issued, you should take action and move quickly to higher ground.

  • Flood Advisory: This alert is issued when a flood that is not considered a significant threat to life or property is expected or occurring. This type of flooding may, however, cause significant inconvenience in affected areas.

Georgia has several ways of alerting residents during a natural or man-made disaster. The state has an Emergency Alert System (EAS) Plan, which was developed by the State Emergency Communications Committee (SECC) to provide emergency information and instructions to Georgia residents. Public safety officials also use Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to inform and warn the public about imminent flash flooding in their area. Alerts are sent out via text messages to residents in affected areas. Some counties in Georgia also have specific alert systems. You should contact your local emergency management office to find out what warning system is used in your county.

Know Your Flash Flood Risk Factors

The first step to take when preparing for a flash flood is to know whether you live in a flood zone. Several factors contribute to your flash flood risk, including your area's topography, soil conditions, vegetation cover, and land use. The intensity of rainfall and duration also contribute to flash flooding. Generally, your home may be at risk of flooding if located in a low-lying area or close to a river, lake, or creek. You can check your flood risk by using the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 's flood zone maps, which show designated flood zones of high, moderate, and low flood risk. You may also contact your local council to find out your area's risk of flooding.

What to Do During a Flash Flood in Georgia

Take note of the following safety tips when caught in a flash flood at home:

  • Listen to local news from TV stations, NOAA Weather Radio, or any media for updates and emergency information.

  • Move all furniture and other items to higher floors.

  • Elevate items stored in your basement to prevent water damage.

  • Unplug electrical appliances and turn off your home's utilities, including power and gas, at the main switches.

  • Never touch electrical equipment if wet or standing in water.

  • Make sure you fill bathtubs, sinks, and plastic bottles with clean water. This is necessary in case there is any contamination or service disruption.

  • If you need to evacuate, follow the instructions of local authorities.

  • Move immediately to higher ground when caught in a flash flood.

  • Do not find shelter in a closed attic during a flash flood. This is to avoid getting trapped by rising floodwaters.

What to Do if in a Vehicle During a Flash Flood

  • Do not drive through floodwaters. Your car can be swept away within six inches of fast-flowing water. Also, you risk getting damaged engines from flood water.

  • If you are caught on a road with rapidly moving waters, get out of your car immediately and move to higher ground.

  • If you are unable to open the door, wait for your car to fill up with water. This will allow you to open the door to swim to a safer place.

  • Do not drive through areas prone to flooding. These include underpasses, low spots, canyons, and dips.

  • Avoid driving around road barricades. Local authorities use them to safely direct traffic out of flooded areas.

  • Be careful of downed power lines when driving.

  • Stay away from bridges during a flash flood. This is because fast-flowing water can wash out bridges without warning.

What to Do if Outdoors During a Flash Flood

  • Do not swim or walk through flowing water. You can get swept away in just two feet of fast-moving water.

  • Avoid contact with floodwater. This is because it may be contaminated with sewage or contain dangerous insects or animals.

  • Do not walk on beaches or riverbanks during a flash flood.

  • If you come across fast-flowing water, remember to turn around.

What to Do After a Flash Flood in Georgia

Even after a flash flood has passed, you should only return home after local authorities say it is safe to do so. Consider the following safety tips when returning home after a flash flood:

Check In With Loved Ones

  • Contact your friends and family and let them know you are safe.

  • Watch out for children, older adults, people with disabilities, or any other person that may require special assistance.

  • Pay attention to how you and your family members are experiencing and handling stress after the disaster.

  • Keep children and pets under your direct control. Make sure they stay away from flood water or any hazardous site.

  • Call 911 if you or anyone around you need urgent medical attention.

Report Broken Utilities

  • Avoid contact with floodwaters when returning home. They may contain debris (broken bottles and plastics) and dangerous animals.

  • Be careful of downed power lines outside your home. Report them immediately to the power company.

  • Do not use flooded gas or electrical appliances until a professional has checked them and certified them safe to operate.

  • If you smell gas, open a window and get out of the house immediately. Be sure to contact your local authorities or utility company.

Assess the Damage to Property

  • Check your home for any structural damage before entering. Do not enter a damaged building after a flood.

  • If your basement is flooded, pump out the water gradually to avoid structural damage. If the water is pumped out within a short period, the water-saturated soil from outside could cause your basement walls to collapse.

  • Take pictures and videos of any damage to your home and property for insurance claims.

Clean Up the House

  • Wear protective clothing when cleaning. These include rubber gloves, rubber boots, safety glasses, facemasks, etc.

  • Dispose of any food, beverage, or medicine that may have been contaminated by flood waters.

  • Wash flooded floors and walls with household bleach and clean water.

  • Move furnishings or debris with a partner since they may be waterlogged and heavier.

  • Disinfect your home after cleaning up, including food contact surfaces.

  • Throw out objects that absorb water and cannot be cleaned or disinfected. These include stuffed animals, baby toys, carpeting, mattresses, etc.

  • Do not use your water supply until local authorities say it is safe.

  • Avoid drinking or using contaminated water to prepare food, wash dishes, brush teeth, and wash hands. Boil water before use.

  • Be careful when cleaning mold or other debris. Keep children and people with asthma and other lung conditions away during clean-up.

  • Be aware that snakes, insects, and other animals may be in your house after a flash flood.

  • Do not touch electrical appliances while you are wet or standing in water. This is to avoid the risk of electrocution.

  • Continue to monitor the media for updates and emergency information.

Get Disaster Relief

Georgia residents that have suffered damage from a flash flood have access to disaster relief. There is FEMA's Individual and Household Program, which provides grants for home repairs and helps with medical, dental, funeral, transportation, and other disaster-related expenses. You are eligible to apply if your county has been declared a federal disaster by the president. Applications can be made on FEMA's website or by calling (800) 621-3362. People with disabilities may also apply by calling (800) 462-7585 directly.

The U.S. Small Business Administration also provides low-interest loans to homeowners, renters, and businesses who have suffered losses from a flash flood. You can apply online on the SBA website or by calling (800) 659-2955. Only individuals who live in an SBA-declared disaster area are eligible for disaster assistance. Georgia residents who are traumatized by a flash flood can call the Disaster Distress Helpline at (800) 985-5990, which is available seven days a week.