Floods - Before, During and After

Floods are the most common and widespread of all natural disasters and can occur nearly anywhere in the United States. The sheer force of just six inches of swiftly moving water can knock people off their feet. Cars are easily swept away in just two feet of water.

Flooding along rivers is a natural and inevitable part of life. Some floods occur seasonally when winter or spring rains, coupled with melting snows, fill river basins with too much water, too quickly. Winds from intense offshore storms can also drive ocean water inland and cause significant flooding. Escape routes can be cut off and blocked by high water.

The National Weather Service will issue a "flood potential outlook" when forecast meteorological conditions indicate a significantly heavy precipitation episode may occur that would either cause flooding or aggravate existing high water or flooding. The "flood potential outlook" is generally issued 36 hours or more before the potential event. Persons along rivers should stay tuned to weather forecasts and be prepared to take action if necessary.

A "flood watch" is issued when meteorological conditions raise the threat of flooding, but occurrence is neither certain or imminent. A "flood watch" is generally issued 12 to 36 hours before the potential event. Persons along rivers should be prepared to take whatever actions are necessary and monitor the latest weather forecasts and potential flood information.

A "flood warning" is issued when flooding is expected within 12 hours or is in progress. Forecast crest information is provided for specific communities or areas along main stem rivers. A general flood warning is issued covering geographical areas beyond main stem rivers. Persons along these rivers should take action to protect lives and property immediately.

The following are recommendations for before, during, and after a flood.




Remember flood waters can be extremely dangerous. The best protection during a flood is to leave the area and go to shelter on higher ground.

Washington State Military Department, Emergency Management Division