Fear and Respect the Flash Flood, Play it Safe and Live


Another surge of tropical moisture will arrive in Central California by late week, and could last into the weekend. This warm and wet system has the potential to bring heavy rain, flooding, and debris flows, especially near recent burn scars. Southern California could see two to four inches of rainfall, while northern California will see heavy rainfall and gusty winds.

So with that, take a long, hard look at the photos in this story. These are from the flash-floods and resulting mudslides in Montecito in January. It’s a rude awakening to the power of a flash-flood and the debris it can bring with it. Don’t underestimate the potential – play it safe and heed any warnings that may come your way.

And these were posted on social media by two people on the scene of flash flooding that devastated the El Capitan State Beach campground in Santa Barbara County last year. Santa Barbara Fire officials say nearly two dozen people had to be rescued, and luckily no one was killed. KTLA reported that rescues began before 10:30 a.m., when mud, tree branches and debris clogged a creek at El Capitan State Beach and caused runoff to overflow the park’s campground, according to Santa Barbara County fire spokesman Mike Eliason. The flooding inundated tents, yurts and campground buildings and caused a number of cabins and parked cars to float away and eventually become pinned in a pile of debris, according to Eliason.

How do you prepare yourself for this kind of flash flooding, can you? As a camper, you likely could not have predicted your cabin was going to wash away, but you might have been able to know that flooding was very possible due to the amount of rainfall in such a short period of time. The experts at CanyoneeringUSA.com say “the key thing to understand is floods are predictable and avoidable.” Knowing your surroundings, their condition, and getting valuable information from park officials would be critical; ask when you arrive. Be sure to visit the links below to learn more about flooding/flash flooding and how you can avoid disaster.

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Some Flash Flood Rules of Thumb (CanyoneeringUSA.com):

  • If the Thunderheads are already forming by noon, things are going to be bad
  • If you cannot see through the rain falling from a thunderstorm, it is strong enough to create a flash flood
  • Once the rain begins, flash flood conditions can develop in less than 5 minutes
  • If your inner gut says ‘no’, listen to it. Go do something else
  • However high you think you need to be to be safe from the flood, go at least twice as high
  • If getting caught, do not try to outrun the flood unless you are very close to the end. Instead, find a place where you can climb out of the canyon or to a secure place HIGH on the canyon wall
  • When camping in a narrow canyon, camp high above the canyon floor, above any signs of previous floods. Camp somewhere with safe pathways to go higher if needed

In the video below, it shows the dramatic onslaught of a flash flood in Nevada. Do you really think you could outrun this, or jump out of the way if it caught you by surprise?

What to do during a flash flood watch

A flash flood watch is issued when the conditions are right for flooding. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a flood will happen, only that it could. Nonetheless, it should be taken seriously. Remember, flash floods can happen quickly.

  • Listen to your TV or radio/weather radio and monitor social media for weather updates and emergency instructions
  • Have a plan for where you will go if you need to reach higher ground
  • Make sure your route avoids low-lying areas
  • Never walk or drive through flood waters
  • Make sure your emergency flood kit is stocked

What to do during a flash flood warning

A flash flood warning is issued when a flash flood is imminent or is already occurring. You should:

  • Move to higher ground immediately or stay on higher ground
  • Keep your radio/weather radio on, monitor weather updates on social media if possible and,
  • Evacuate if necessary

If you’re driving:

  • Move to higher ground immediately and avoid stopping near streams, rivers, or creeks
  • Never drive through flood water, even if it looks shallow. It may be deeper than it looks and just 2 feet of water can sweep your car away



Cal OES Preparedness Tips

National Weather Service

California Highway Patrol – Winter Driving Tips

Caltrans – Road Conditions 

Department of Water Resources – Do You Know Your Risk? 



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