Terms and definitions ... what to listen for

National Flood Safety Awareness Week continues through Friday


The difference between floods and flash floods

A "flash flood" is a rapid (generally within six hours) rise of water along a stream or low-lying area after a heavy rainfall or from the failure of a dam, levee or ice jam. By definition, flash flooding is life-threatening.


A "flood" is defined as water overflowing the confines of a river, stream, or body of water. A flood can also occur when water accumulates in poorly drained, low-lying or urban areas. Floods, known for producing billions of dollars in damage across the nation each year, are also a significant safety hazard.

Know what to listen for in the case of a flood

The various products detailed below, issued by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service, are designed to warn citizens of developing flooding situations and assist individuals in preparedness activities.

Hazardous Weather Outlooks will be issued to alert of the potential for flooding and/or flash flooding, as much as seven days in advance.

Flood and Flash Flood Watches will be issued when conditions are favorable for flooding or flash flooding, respectively. Flood watches usually give 12 to 36 hours advance notice, while flash flood watches typically provide 6 to 24 hours advance notice. Watches indicate a need for planning, preparation, and an increased awareness of changing weather conditions.

Flash Flood Warnings are issued when flash flooding is occurring or imminent. A flash flood warning requires the need to take immediate action for protection of life and property.

Flood Warnings are issued for flooding along rivers and streams. Point-specific warnings are issued for specific river forecast points and areal flood warnings are issued for a generalized area such as an entire county.

Again, a warning indicates the need to take immediate action to protect life and property.

Turn Around, Don't Drown is a National Weather Service campaign to warn people of the hazards of walking or driving a vehicle through flood waters. Roads signs are used in many parts of the country during flood episodes that warn motorists to Turn Around, Don't Drown.

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