Last summer the area saw devastating floods that proved deadly for several people in Vernon County. Damage to roads and bridges was estimated in the millions of dollars, but can you get ahead of the curve when it comes to severe weather? Now is the time to with Severe Weather Awareness Week beginning April 17th and ending April 21st for Minnesota and Wisconsin.
All year round we should be weather aware and ready for Mother Nature's fury. Rain, snow, or severe weather, Keith Butler of La Crosse Emergency Management says, "People should be practicing severe weather awareness all the year long because certainly the winter storms have their own dynamics and challenges. This is a time of year where we really start to see the pop up thunderstorms and some severe weather can come out of that."
These severe thunderstorms usually arrive with heavy rain and it's over a short period of time. Keith adds, "A pattern of storms, repetitive storms in the same area can cause those rivers to rise right away and we want to be ready for that."
That is just the case in certain scenarios. Often times the rivers and streams can rise with little to no warning and thunderstorms can cause severe flash flooding. Todd Shea, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in La Crosse defines flash flooding as, "Flash flood means that it's happening very quickly. It's a little different from a river flood. In this case it's come up very quickly. And if it's daylight, sometimes people can see how deep the water is, or see there is high water ahead and sometimes they do make the right choice of 'Turn Around Don't Drown'."
The biggest risks with flash flooding can sometimes reside overnight. Last year there was a surprise storm that parked over the top of the Coulee Region and dumped unexpected amounts of heavy rain. Many area residents woke up with some kind of flooding whether it was minor, major, or severe. Shea adds, "At night that becomes a bit more of a challenge because you may not be able to see that there is high water there, or have any kind of idea how deep it is. In addition, you don't really know what the road condition is underneath that flowing water. So while we tell to find a different route, stay on high ground, at night it's going to be more difficult for people to actually notice that going on and that puts people at more of a risk."
Even after the water retreats, the flooding can leave behind weakened or collapsed roadways and you'll need to heed road closure warnings. Also, landslides are no becoming a new danger with flooding. Keith Butler says, "When the hills come down, that's new to us. Starting about 2007/2008 we started seeing these storms. Now they're occurring much more frequently and with greater intensity. We're seeing them all the time. Last year I think we saw 4 to 5 events like that in west-central regions of Wisconsin."
To ensure your safety this severe weather season, make sure to tune into WXOW-19, the WXOW Stormtracker 19 Weather App, or you can purchase a NOAA weather radio that will keep you up to date 24/7.
Also, before driving through flooded roadways consider the following:
- It only takes 6 inches of water to reach the bottom of most cars, which can cause stalling or loss of control.
- It takes just a foot of water to float a vehicle.
- And if you think your truck or SUV is immune, think again! Two feet of water can carry away larger and heavier vehicles.