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The first rule of driving in flood water is don't drive in flood water. Even a truck with good ground clearance and a snorkel can get washed away with shocking quickness. But sometimes you still need to get around when the possibility of a flash flood persists. When that happens, it'd be wise to pack a few pieces of safety gear and keep them within reach.
"Everday carry," often shorted to EDC, refers to items you could carry (you guessed it) every day. But typically, like with this list, the items are selected for certain scenarios or lifestyles. Also: The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more on that here.
Here's a quick list of items that I'd recommend carrying if you're concerned about getting caught in a flood.
A dry bag, even a small tote that's waterproof, can go a long way to protect you from two dangerous possibilities of driving in flood conditions: You may have to abandon your car very quickly, and you'll definitely have trouble keeping anything dry. But if you've got a designated waterproof bag on your back seat or passenger footwell or something, you can toss your phone and wallet in with all the other essentials we'll talk about below, get clear of your car and danger, and have enough to feel slightly less screwed while you wait for rescue.
Here's a cute little one that's cheap, comes with a phone-specific sub-case, and has a window on the side so you can see what's in it. If you really want to be thrifty, a sturdy trash bag will get the job done.
I keep a poncho or two in all of my vehicles. They're so cheap and pack so small it seems silly not to—though I will admit I hate being wet more than most people (hate it). Ponchos really come through in the clutch if you get caught in a deluge and need to sprint across a parking lot or even get out of the car to change a tire or whatever. And if you do have to abandon your car in a flood, there's a good chance you're going to be outside in some serious rain. You might not be able to stay completely dry, but a decent poncho would make the stressful experience of being out in a flood a lot less physically uncomfortable. I usually just buy cheapo disposable ones (available at most gas stations and convenience stores). But I like the looks of these Frogg Toggs ones—I've used moto rain gear from this brand and it's fine; the price here ($15 at the time of writing) seems appropriate.
A reflective high-visibility vest is another item I recommend everyone keep in all their cars all the time. No, not because I like to randomly do road construction between errands. Like the poncho, hi-vis vests are light and cheap and you'll probably never use yours. But the one time you do have to be out next to a dark road in the middle of the night, a simply work vest could be what stands between you and getting run over. More pertinent to flood survival: Wearing one could make you much more visible to rescuers.
"Are we really going to need more water when a flood is going on?" Unfortunately, if you're stranded by floodwaters, it is probable that you will want something to drink other than the gross water that's carrying your town away around you. How much you carry is up to you—if you have to abandon your vehicle quickly, you won't have much time to grab a multi-gallon cask. I'd just keep a couple of full water bottles in your dry bag and drink/replace them every so often so they're always relatively fresh.
Seatbelt Cutter and Window Breaker
A seatbelt cutter and window-breaking tool is most useful if it's accessible to the driver and your car's caught in some kind of compromised position that makes the seatbelt or doors impossible to use normally. Such a crash could conceivably happen in a flood scenario. Now, if you're worried about your car getting caught in water so rapidly that you can't get the doors open or seatbelt off before you're underwater, I strongly recommend going to a junkyard and practicing escaping from a scrap car with your Lifehammer-style tool so you know what to expect when using it under stress. Here's a link to buy one with a nice little quick-mount kit included.
For seeing and being seen while keeping your hands free, you can't beat a simple personal headlamp. Smart money's on one that's USB-rechargeable so you're never hunting for batteries. I have had good luck with the Foxelli brand of headlamps which are always readily available on Amazon, but I like the look of these wide ones with "taillights" that I've been seeing recently.
Nautical Distress Light
This is beyond what I think is reasonable to carry in a car, but in the spirit of creating a comprehensive list and based on some casual research, this Resq Flare from a company called ACR is the portable distress beacon light to get if you feel like you need one. It's not exactly cheap at about $80, but this model keeps popping up in my searches and I like the fact that it's rechargeable.
If you're in a very remote location and could imagine being stuck far away from people, this might make a little more sense. But if you're in a suburban or urban setting, you're probably covered with a cheap vest and regular headlamp.
FEMA's Flash Floods Prepping Advice
Since we're disaster list-making, here's what the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends having on hand if floods are imminent. Good gear to have per the agency's library of public information regarding Flash Floods:
- Flashlights and extra batteries
- Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries
- First aid kit and manual
- Non-perishable food and water
- Manual can opener
- Essential medicines
- Cash and credit cards
- Sturdy shoes
The Science of Flood Dangers
Weather.gov has a water physics presentation that looks like it was made with Microsoft Office '97 but still contains valuable insight on the strength of flood waters. Actually, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cites something far older: Archimedes’ principle. Archi was a Greek mathematician who figured out that the buoyant force on an object is equal to the water displaced by an object. Water weighs about 62 pounds per cubic foot, and that adds up very quickly when it's rising above axle height. Combine that with the water's momentum, and you can imagine how easily a vehicle could be swept away.
Even if you have a 4x4 with a snorkel, rushing water is a lot more difficult to contend with than the kind of mud puddles or stream crossings you're likely to encounter off-roading.
Turn Around, Don't Drown!
The best thing you can carry with you when you're driving in or around flooded areas is your sense of self-preservation. Well, that, and the knowledge mentioned above about just how little water it takes to carry off a car. It doesn't take much rushing water can sweep a small vehicle off its tires! Federal agencies have even produced a cute little song to remind us about flood-driving tactics. Now, be safe out there.