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Flash Floods Pose Serious Danger to Backcountry Adventurers

In a climate as dry as Nevada’s it can be tempting to give little thought to the possibility of flooding while planning a backcountry trip. But floods can happen quickly, and for a variety of reasons. Flash floods are among the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the United States. With a good understanding of what causes flash floods and locations to avoid during conditions that cause them, hikers, campers, and off-roaders can protect themselves from potentially serious dangers.

What causes flash floods?

Flash floods can happen wherever the right mix of water supply and poor drainage combine to produce a significant buildup of water. In Nevada, the risk of flash floods is especially high in dry creek beds and washes. These natural pathways for water drainage can be hard to see sometimes, in part because they can be quite large. Campers sometimes get caught in flash floods after pitching tents in a wash—the relatively flat, clear ground seems like an ideal place to rest. A common cause of flash flooding is torrential rain from thunderstorms. Depending on how quickly a storm is moving, a thunderstorm can drop a lot of water in a concentrated spot over a very short time. Flash floods have also been known to be caused by melting snow and less common phenomena like broken dams and levees.

Protecting yourself from flood risk

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAH) has three straightforward points about flood safety:
  1. In the event of a flood, get to higher ground. For backcountry enthusiasts, a corollary to this rule is the idea that low ground in general is to be avoided as a place for camping. This is especially true if there are signs of storms anywhere on the horizon, but always bear in mind that storms can arise quickly and in the middle of the night.
  2. Do not drive or walk into flooded areas. Many of the deaths caused by flash floods occur because people make the mistake of driving their cars into a flooded area and get stuck. Flood waters can rise extremely fast and can carry huge objects like boulders and whole tress with them over long distances. A passenger car can be carried away in surprisingly shallow water.
  3. Stay informed. Before heading into the backcountry find out what the weather in the area will be doing during your trip. Pay attention to the chance of rain anywhere upstream of where you’ll be. Flood waters can travel a long distance in a short time.
With rare exceptions, everyone who is in the backcountry is responsible for their own safety. Unless a landowner is charging a fee for people to use the land for recreation, landowners (including government agencies) have no duty to keep property safe for recreational use. Among other things, that means that potential sites for flash floods aren’t likely to be highlighted with signs or other kinds of warning. The law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez represents clients in the Las Vegas area in personal injury cases. If you have questions about your legal options after suffering injuries during a flash flood, please reach out to us today for a free attorney consultation. We can be reached at 702-388-4476 or through our contacts page.