Turn Around
"Turn Around Don't Drown" is the mantra used in areas where flash flooding commonly occurs, like this roadway leading to a training area at Fort Hood, Texas. Motorists are advised to use caution, and check the gauges on the sides of the roads assess water levels. Most of all, safety officials urge motorists to simply turn around when in doubt. (Photo Credit: Stephanie Salmon, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HOOD, Texas - While many equate the start of April to spring flowers, gentle rains and longer days, here in Central Texas it means one big thing: flash flood season.

April to September is flash flood season, aligning with the majority of the rain fall between April to June, and August to September. With 10 lives having been taken due to flash floods in the Fort Hood area in the past decade, including nine lives lost in 2016 when a military vehicle containing 12 Soldiers was caught in a flash flood during a training exercise, the leadership wants to ensure its community is prepared.

“Now it’s maybe only five or six times a year that we have storms of (significant) magnitude,” Edward Anderson, program manager at the Texas A&M Blackland Research and Extension Center, said. “But when it rains here, you know it pours.”

Flash floods are a significant problem in this area, due to the many unimproved low water crossings. Fort Hood, which comprises over 300 square miles of the Central Texas area, contains many housing areas and a substantial amount of ranges and training areas, all of which intersect with the 10 major creeks and hundreds of smaller creeks that run through the Army post.

The ground in Central Texas, with its layers of clay and rock, doesn’t allow for rain to soak into the ground like other places, which is what leads to flash floods of the magnitude seen. The creeks can only contain so much water, and when there isn’t enough soil to help soak in the runoff from a sudden intense rainfall, that’s when flash flooding becomes an issue.

“Fortunately, it floods the most out in the training areas, where a lot of our streams congregate,” Edmund “TC” Coffman, occupational health and safety specialist with the Directorate of Public Works, stated. “But there are areas here in the cantonments, as well, that are prone to flooding, or prone to being impacted by storm water runoff. A lot of our focus goes to the established streams on the installation that are going to receive the majority of the rainfall at some point.”

“When we talk about flooding and flood waters it’s important to communicate to folks that water moving across the roadway at any juncture is something to seriously stop and consider turning around and finding an alternate course,” Coffman continued. “You really don’t know a lot of times what’s going on underneath that water that’s moving across the roadway. It could have damaged that roadway and what have you, and created a greater hazard enough to just cause your vehicle to stop operating properly, leaving you stranded in those instances.”

Coffman says that even with those established low water crossing gauges, which may indicate only a small amount of water, that it that can be misleading. Even a foot of water can be dangerous, as everyone’s vehicle’s capabilities are different and often one cannot see what’s under the water or whether the rush of the flood has caused any roadway damage. Any flooding could also be a sign of greater danger if the water rushing across the roadway brings with it something larger that could impact a vehicle or its passengers, such as tree branches or other items.

“Everyone hears ‘turn around, don’t drown,” Coffman stated. “I can’t imagine anyone out there today hasn’t heard ‘turn around, don’t drown’. But … one of the things I’d like folks to do is when you see water moving across the roadway, or you see the flood waters or you know we have significant rainfall coming … one, be informed, and two, be prepared to ask yourself, is it worth it?”

Tank trail
Signs like this one on a tank trail at Fort Hood, Texas, gives indicators of road conditions. When red, the trail is closed. (Photo Credit: Stephanie Salmon, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

Many safety measures have been put into place to prevent issues caused by flash floods, including new bridges being built over low-water crossings; water gauges to show the current amount of water in a certain area, and closing off roadways when there is a sign of flash flooding.

There are also flash-flood warnings issued by the Alert! Mass Warning and Notification System. “Alert! MWNS gives the chain-of-command the ability to notify (the) Fort Hood Community in the event of emergency,” Frederick Corbin, emergency manager on Fort Hood, said. “The Alert! MWNS can communicate via desktop pop-up, telephone, SMS, and email. Ensuring your information is updated and correct will help increase notification capabilities and response times in emergency situations.”

There is also a program called CodeRED, which provides regional emergency management agencies the ability to quickly deliver messages to targeted areas, entire communities, selected groups, or the entire region, such as flash-flood and other weather and emergency service-related messages. Registration for CodeRED can be found at https://ctcog.org/emergency-services/homeland-security/#codered.

“We can’t do anything to prevent flash floods,” Anderson said, “but we can do things to manage risk to people and to property, and to spread awareness.”

The biggest thing is preparedness and awareness. Especially during flash flood season, ensure roadways are clear; stay up-to-date with current weather and flash-flood warnings; and when all else fails: turn around, don’t drown.

You can hear more from Anderson and Coffman on Fort Hood’s Great Big Podcast, available for download today. You can also view much of the environmental research regarding flash flooding at blackland.tamu.edu.