When it became clear last week that the looming weather catastrophe wouldn’t be remembered for Hurricane Joaquin, but rather the historic flooding in the Carolinas, I knew that the internet would be plastered with videos of idiots driving through floods come Monday. Idiots came through. Don’t drive through a flood, you idiots.
Every time I write about flooding, I go through some canned spiel like this: the majority of flooding deaths in the United States occur in vehicles as a result of people trying to drive across a flooded roadway. It only takes a foot of moving water to lift a vehicle and toss it downstream. Don’t risk your life and the lives of the crews who have to rescue you or recover your body. It’s the same message you hear time and time again, whether it’s from blogs, The Weather Channel, or flash flood warnings issued by the NWS.
It’s kind of like the “get to the lowest level of your home” routine we go through every time there’s a threat for tornadoes, and everyone knows it by heart. The National Weather Service even has a rhymey slogan to help you remember not to drive your multi-ton vehicle into a raging torrent of water: “turn around, don’t drown.”
What is so hard about that?
Survival is instinctive. When we see a fire or smell smoke where it shouldn’t be, our first instinct is to get the hell out of there. If there’s a loud bang, we jump and our heart starts pounding as the fight-or-flight response takes over. So why is it that when we encounter a road completely covered in feet of gushing, murky water, people still make the decision to step on the gas and go for it?
The list of excuses is long and tiring.
“It’s not that much water.”
“It’s not that deep.”
“It’s not moving very fast.”
“I’ve done it before and I’m fine.”
“My car can make it.”
“I don’t have time to look for another route. I have to get to [work, school, church, a brothel, the store, McDonald’s, the morgue].”
And on, and on.
Some disasters really are out of your control. With the exception of settling at the very top of a mountain in the Rockies, there’s almost nowhere you can live in the continental United States that’s safe from tornadoes. If your home is destroyed by a tornado, it’s hard for someone to honestly say “well, that’s your fault.”
There are preventable tragedies. Dying in a rip current is one of them. Driving through a flood and getting stuck is another. Getting stuck on a flooded roadway is almost always the driver’s fault. The only possible way it’s not the driver’s fault is if they get stuck in a traffic jam and the water starts rising and overtaking the roadway, and the odds of that happening (and not being able to get out in time) are pretty freakin’ low.
If people are banking on being rescued before their lungs fill with water or they suffer a fatal injury, don’t count on it. There were hundreds (if not thousands) of high-water rescues in South Carolina this weekend. Given the sheer number of emergencies and limited number of emergency crews, it’s a safe bet to say that many of those people had to wait a little while to be rescued.
Even if they arrive in time, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to rescue you. During those horrific floods in Texas and Oklahoma last spring, two guys in a big pickup truck tried to drive across a flooded roadway where the water was rapidly rising. A news helicopter managed to catch the entire thing on live television, and the world watched as the water rose so high that it forced the men onto the roof of the cab. It looked like we were going to see two men die on national television.
The National Guard flew in a helicopter to rescue them, and when the rescuer lowered from the helicopter into the floodwater, he was violently swept into the fence that kept the truck from flipping downstream. He was able to recover and save the two men, but it could have gone very bad very quickly.
There is no guarantee that you will be rescued. Driving through a flooded roadway not only risks your life—potentially hurting (at worst) and screwing over (at best) your own family in the process—but you’re forcing emergency crews risk their own lives to fish your dumb ass out of the flood that you had no business driving through in the first place.
Don’t drive through a flooded roadway, you idiots.