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MEMA Home > Programs> Communication> News > Severe Weather Awareness: Focus on Floods

Severe Weather Awareness: Focus on Floods


May 4, 2012


In addition to lightning, high winds, hail, and tornadoes, summertime thunderstorms also bring the threat of flooding and flash flooding to northern New England. In the summertime, most flash floods are caused by heavy, slowly moving thunderstorms which can produce excessive rainfall in an area in just a short period of time. Along with the rainfall, topography, soil conditions, and ground cover help determine how much of the rainfall soaks into the ground and how much of the rainfall runs off into streams and rivers.

Floods kill …

Nationwide, floods and flash floods are the greatest storm-related killer*, claiming the lives of about 90 people annually. Similar to the rest of the nation, floods and flash floods are the number one storm-related killer in New England. In addition, floods and flash floods are responsible for a considerable amount of public and private property damage.

Last year, 63 percent of the flood fatalities were caused by people attempting to drive through flooded areas. Another 22 percent were caused as people attempted to run, walk, or swim, or just fell into a flooded area.

As little as 2 feet of water will float most cars and small trucks. If your vehicle begins to float, you lose complete control over the vehicle. If your vehicle stalls in a flooded roadway, abandon it immediately and seek higher ground. The water may sweep the vehicle and its occupants away.

Dam failures can also lead to floods or flash floods. While not always caused by the weather, dam failures can lead to extremely fast rises in river and stream levels.

Flooding tragedies …

Here are several fatal flood and flash flood events that occurred in Maine and New Hampshire since 1996.

March 13, 1996 Alton, New Hampshire:

A catastrophic failure of an earthen dam on meadows pond caused a flash flood downstream of the dam. A woman trying to flee the flood waters in her pickup truck drowned after her vehicle was washed off the roadway and into a ravine.

July 13 1996 Bristol, New Hampshire:

Three to four inches of rain from the remnants of hurricane Bertha caused many small rivers and streams to flood. A 10- year old boy playing in the rain-swollen Newfound river was swept to his death.

October 21, 1996 Scarborough, Maine:

Four to 19 inches of rain caused very serious flooding in New Hampshire and western Maine. One man drowned when he drove his car into a flooded roadway. Unknown to the man, the road had already been washed away.

March 31, 1998 Franklin County, Maine:

Snowmelt, caused by record-breaking warmth, combined with recent rainfall to cause many rivers and streams to rise. One man drowned when he drove his truck into a flooded roadway.

June 27, 1998 Bridgewater, New Hampshire:

Heavy, slow-moving thunderstorms caused the baker river and it's tributaries to rise rapidly. One man drowned when he was sucked into a culvert while attempting to clear debris from the culvert. A second man was injured.

April 16, 2007 Lebanon, Maine:

A woman and her 4-year old granddaughter that she was carrying were swept to their death as they attempted to cross a flooded roadway on foot.

August 07, 2008 Ashland, New Hampshire:

A 7-year-old girl drowned when a bridge washed away as her family tried to drive out of a flooded campground.

Pay attention to alerts, and be safe …

To alert the public to the threat of flooding, the National Weather Service issues Flood and Flash Flood Watches and Warnings.

A Flood Watch indicates flooding or flash flooding is possible, and is usually issued in anticipation of heavy rainfall.

A Flood or Flash Flood Warning indicates that flooding is imminent or is already occurring. If you hear that a Flood or Flash Flood Warning has been issued for your area, move immediately to higher ground if flood waters threaten.

Here are some flood and flash flood facts and safety tips.

  • Never drive a car into a flooded roadway. More than half of all flash flood fatalities are vehicle related.
  • Keep away from streams during heavy rainfall events. Swiftly moving water is extremely powerful and can easily overpower a person.
  • Keep children (and pets) inside and away from flooded streets, culverts, and streams.
  • Report any flooding to the appropriate authorities.
  • If advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Obey all road blocks and barriers, even if the flooding has receded. Flood waters may have undercut the road surface or left dangerous debris in the roadway.
  • If you live in a flood prone area, have a plan in case the water starts rising quickly.

Severe Weather Awareness Week ...

The National Weather Service has declared the week of April 30th through May 4th Severe Weather Awareness Week in New England. Today's message is presented in partnership with the National Weather Service Forecast Offices in Maine:

  • National Weather Service Gray: covers western and Southern Maine, include York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox, Waldo, Androscoggin, Oxford, Franklin and Kennebec Counties, and central and southern Somerset County.
  • National Weather Service Caribou: covers eastern and Northern Maine, including Aroostook, Penobscot, Washington, Hancock, Piscataquis and northern Somerset County.



Last update: 07/20/10