July 22, 2014 - 21:09
Watch for flash flooding
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A low-lying area can become a death trap in a matter of minutes.

U.S. Forest Service officials at the Cherokee National Forest have issued a flash flood safety bulletin for neighboring communities. A flash flood is a serious concern because the force of rising water is extremely dangerous during a sudden storm—a rapid surge of water can claim victims in less than one minute.


“Many of our neighbors like to camp overnight in the national forest. We see a lot of camping in low-lying areas because families like to spend the day near streams and rivers. What people don't expect is a sudden rush of water toward their tent or camper … enough to threaten the entire family in just a few seconds,” Cherokee National Forest Supervisor, JaSal Morris said.


The National Weather Service describes a flash flood as a rapid rise of water in a low-lying area, usually caused by an intense storm that produces heavy rainfall in a short amount of time, or heavy rainfall in the mountains that rushes downstream. They can happen at a moment's notice, any time of year.


During a flash flood, rapidly rising water can reach heights of 30 feet or more. Rising flood waters carry a velocity strong enough to roll boulders and vehicles, tear out trees, destroy bridges and undermine roads. A low-lying area can become a death trap in a matter of minutes.


“There is very little time to react,” Morris said. “Forest visitors need to be more conscious about the impact of heavy rains and sudden storms. And families should discuss how they would alert each other and climb to safety if rushing or rising water interrupts their trip.”


Forest Service officials say if you are planning a visit to a national forest it is a very good idea to check the National Weather Service forecast before you leave home, and to be alert for changing weather conditions while visiting the forest. Devices like a weather radio, a terrestrial radio and a smart-phone app can help visitors stay tuned-in during their outdoor activities.  Weather experts say the best defense is to be weather-ready before a storm hits.


Flood awareness is especially critical for campers because flash floods can occur after dark, when campers are asleep. “It's nearly impossible to see the water depths and the force of the current when a flash flood happens at night. Once you wake up, you may already be surrounded by rushing water and danger is everywhere, lurking in the darkness,” Morris said.


Go home whenever stormy weather is forecasted. And always be alert for sudden rain storms, water flowing into low areas or the sound of rushing water. When it doubt, don’t go out – stay home.


According to Supervisor Morris there are 30 developed campgrounds and dozens of undeveloped areas in the Cherokee National Forest that are popular places to camp overnight. “Some folks come to the forest, even during the winter months,” Morris said. “It’s important for people to be weather-ready all year round. Safety isn't seasonal.”


The National Weather Service is our nation’s exclusive and trusted source for weather forecasts and warnings. They operate the most advanced flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property.


As with all remote and rural locations in the U.S., city sirens don’t exist out in nature.  Morris said, “Remember, your safety is your own responsibility whenever you leave town and head outdoors … no matter where you go.”

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