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When a flood isn't labeled a flood, but it is one

Posted at 10:11 AM, Mar 20, 2015

As if severe weather alerts aren’t confusing enough with statements, advisories, watches and warnings, there are also different kinds of floods of which to be aware.

There are regular floods, flash floods and areal floods. To help residents know what’s coming over these next, wet months, here’s a breakdown.

Special Weather Statement: These are issued when criteria for an advisory, watch, or warning isn’t met, but something unusual is happening, about to happen, or recently happened. A good example would be a garden-variety thunderstorm with heavy rain. It doesn’t cause any flooding, but a brief downpour may cause someone to wonder if this weather will last, get worse or both. A special weather statement can help answer all of those questions.

Flood Advisory: This is a single step up from a special weather statement. These are issued when there may be minor flooding, but it doesn’t pose any danger to life or property. This could be flooding in low-lying areas or roads with poor drainage. Usually, these are issued when there may be a few larger-than-normal puddles around.

Watch: A step above an advisory. This means there is a potential for flooding, usually within the next 24 hours. This is when you’ll want to pay close attention to the forecast and make sure you have a plan in place if flooding does affect you.

Warning: When a warning is issued, this means flooding is happening right now or it’s about to happen soon. This is the time to act. Warnings can have a multitude of targets ranging from a single stream to an entire river, community or even a county.

Flood vs. flash flood vs. areal flooding: Watches and warnings will have one of these types of floods attached to them, and it’s important to know the difference between all three. A flood is the result of a river or stream surpassing the flood stage, usually from heavy rainfall, debris and ice jams, melting snow, or a combination of all three. Flash floods occur much faster than regular floods and can be much more dangerous. Small creeks and streams are more likely to experience flash flooding. These will also be issued if a dam or barrier is at risk of failing. And finally, areal flooding is usually the result of a prolonged rainfall. It usually occurs more than six hours after the rain begins and can cover a large area. It develops much more slowly than flash flooding, but it can still be dangerous.

Knowing the difference between the different types of flooding and knowing when to plan (watch) and when to act (warning) can save your life. Flooding is the number one natural disaster in the United States, and it affects everyone. Be the first to know about flood watches and warnings in your area by downloading the Storm Shield Weather Radio App for your smartphone.