January 19, 2005 | By: Ellen Brightwell

What is the difference between severe weather warnings for a flash flood watch and a flash flood warning? Knowing the answer and how to safely respond could save lives.

A "watch" means that current and developing hydro-meteorological conditions favor flash flooding in the area, whereas a "warning" means that flash flooding is in progress, imminent or highly likely, said Tom Priddy, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture meteorologist.

"A flash flood can happen quickly, often within a few minutes, threatening both life and property," he said. "Waters can move at incredible speeds moving boulders, tearing out trees, destroying buildings and creating new channels. Quick action can save lives so it is important to remain alert to weather conditions and immediately seek higher ground if a warning is issued." 

A National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio with Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) is a very good source of weather information, in addition to area radio and television station coverage. NOAA weather radio is a nationwide network of stations broadcasting continuous National Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day. SAME technology enables listeners to program radios to tone alert only for specific counties of interest.

"When a flash flood warning is issued for your area, or if you realize flooding is occurring, it is critical to act quickly because you may only have seconds to save yourself and your family," said Kim Henken, Extension associate for environmental issues.

Following these safety tips may prevent tragedy during a flood.

Remain alert for indications of heavy rain such as thunder and lightning where you are and up stream from your location. Watch for rising water levels. 

Move out of dips, low spots and flood-prone canyons during periods of heavy rain. 

Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and washes, especially during flood-threatening conditions. 

Be especially watchful at night because it is harder to determine the water depth and recognize the potential danger.

Know where higher areas are and go there quickly if you see or hear rapidly rising water.

Avoid flooded areas.

Do not try to cross a flowing stream on foot if the water is above your knees.

If you are driving, know the depth of standing water before crossing a dip or low area, because the road beneath might not be intact and flood waters could quickly carry a vehicle away. Immediately abandon a vehicle that stalls when crossing water and seek higher ground.

Do not allow children to play around high water, storm drains, viaducts and drainage ditches.

To find more information on weather-related safety, visit the Extension Disaster Education Network home page atwwwagwx.ca.uky.edu/EDEN, or contact the local Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service office.


Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736, ext. 257
Sources: Tom Priddy 859-257-3000, ext. 245
Kim Henken 859-257-7775