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Earth Sense: When unexpected heavy rains occur, move to higher ground

POSTED: August 24, 2014 12:50 a.m.

Superstorm Sandy, which covered the East Coast with floodwaters from Florida to Maine in 2012, is still a household name. But memories of Sandy were overshadowed by the torrential rains that hit Baltimore, Long Island and Connecticut on Aug. 12.

Just one day before the system dumped more than 6 inches of water there, Detroit, Mich., experienced a historic flood from the same storm. Two people died in the deluge, and motorists had to be rescued from their cars when the expressways filled waist-deep with water. 

In Gainesville, Lake Lanier serves as a temporary holding reservoir during extreme rain. But flash floods can occur here, too.

Anyone who has observed such an event has been astonished to see how fast the waters rise. Even more astonishing is watching cars head right into flooded streets.

With portions of Wilmington, N.C., inundated some years ago, I took pictures of drivers trying to get through New Centre Drive, pushing a huge bow wave. Two of them were clearly elderly.

None of them seemed to notice the tow truck waiting near the end of the flooded area.

Its operator was making a good business of pulling the stalled cars out of the water, no doubt for a handsome charge. The most striking sight, however, was a school bus with children inside entering the flood.

Paying a hefty sum for getting your car out of the water is the least that can happen.

Due to low ground clearance, modern automobiles will begin to float in as little as 10 inches of water. But not for long. When the tires lose ground contact, the car drifts aimlessly, rendering the steering wheel, gas pedal and brakes completely useless.

Many times have motorists found themselves drifting into deeper waters, where the car can sink or overturn, and that’s when drowning becomes a likely outcome. Even when there seems to be just a few inches of water on the asphalt, one should never drive into that. There’s no telling where a sinkhole might have opened up and dump the car into a deep spot, with predictable results. 

To the north of us, the roads go through some towns at the deepest part (aka floodplain) of a valley. When sudden heavy rains occur, it’s wise to move to higher ground and wait the storm out, instead of getting trapped on a flooded road.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

 



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