Turn Around, Don’t Drown: the Physics of Flash Flooding and “the Bubba Syndrome”

Every year, too many times a year, people lose a battle with the laws of physics and challenging rising, flowing water. Driving through flooded areas including highways, streets, and low water crossings is a gamble at best, and a fatal mistake at worst.

We in the hazards awareness community colloquially refer to this activity as, “the Bubba syndrome.” This is when a motorist believes his (and it usually is gender specific) vehicle can get through a flooded area because it is: 1) four wheel drive, 2) lifted, and/or 3) large and powerful. All of these justifications, so to speak, just don’t hold water.

For every foot of flowing water impacting yours vehicle, the water displaces 1500 pounds of curb weight. One foot of flowing water will cause most passenger vehicles to lose contact with the ground. Two feet of flowing water will carry most passenger vehicles away, and three feet of flowing water will sweep virtually any vehicle away. Cars, trucks and buses are buoyant.

It only gets worse when one considers the unknown. The motorist has no idea what lies beneath the surface of that turbulent, muddy water. The road or bridge may no longer exist. The Great Unknown can kill. Don’t gamble with your life or that of your occupants. Here are a few flash flood safety tops:

Do NOT drive around barricades Evacuate if instructed Move to higher ground, or if cut off in a building by rising water, move to a higher floor If trapped in a vehicle, get on top of the vehicle and wait for help to arrive. Call 911 if you can.

Flood waters are unforgiving. Do not give them a chance to take your life.