Low water bridge crossings: a hidden flood danger

Published: May. 8, 2020 at 1:44 PM EDT
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Spring and summer bring not just warm temperatures to our area, but often times, thunderstorms, tropical storms, or other heavy rain events that can lead to flooding.

With so many streams and creeks in the Shenandoah Valley, we also have a lot of low water bridge crossings. Because these are built lower to the ground over creeks, these will flood more often.

Water can be flowing over a low water bridge, but the creek can still be in its banks.

Jason Elliott is the hydrologist with our local National Weather Service and explains why there won’t be flood warnings issued in these cases.

“You may not see a warning in those situations because there really isn’t flooding going on. We certainly have to keep an eye on those and not drive into water regardless of the situation," said Elliott.

The low water crossing can still be dangerous because the water there can rise quickly.

“Every car has its own underside clearance, so just because the car in front of you made it, it doesn’t mean the next car is going to," said Elliott.

For many, a low water bridge may be the only way in or out of your home, or road. So you might be used to driving over a little water.

“You’ve crossed dozens of times because you know, or you think you know, what level is safe. But what you don’t know is what’s underneath that water. There might be other things in there that can cause you to get stopped in the water or stall.”

Night can be especially dangerous and misjudging the power of the water could be fatal.

Heat is still the number one weather killer. Flooding is not far behind. 50% of flooding related fatalities happen in vehicles.

Most people just underestimate the power and the speed of water.

Out of all 50 states, Texas has the most number of flooding deaths. West Virginia ranks 8th for flooding related deaths and Virginia is number thirteen.

Next time you encounter a flooded road, turn around. It's not worth the risk. Not only could you be saving your vehicle from serious damage, but you might also be saving your own life.

It can take up to 18" of water to float a vehicle, even a large semi truck. The smaller and more low to the ground a vehicle, the less water it takes to become buoyant.

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