UTSA offers insight from first floodwater research study conducted in Texas

Flood

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(May 19, 2010)--Hatim Sharif, an assistant professor in the UTSA Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, wishes motorists would take floodwater crossings seriously.

Through two-and-a-half years of research, Sharif and his students, undergraduate Nneoma Duru-onweni and graduate students Terrance Jackson and Moazzem Hossain, learned that driving through a flooded intersection is the primary cause of Texas storm-related deaths. Texas also is the only state in the nation where people die from flood-related deaths every year.

According to the researchers, more people die in floodwater crossings in Texas than in any other state. Since Texas started counting, 839 people have died in floodwater-related incidents. By contrast, 265 people have died in floodwaters in second-ranked Pennsylvania over the same time period.

Texas may have so many flood-related deaths because drivers have difficulty discerning the depth of flooded intersections, especially at night or when it is still raining. Sharif also believes many drivers never see the yardsticks that mark a flood crossing. Those who do, he says, just don't know how to read them.

Unfortunately, in Texas, building bridges over flood crossings is not cost-effective because of alternating wet and dry seasons. Instead, Sharif recommends the city install floodwater gates at flooded intersections, much like railroad crossing gates. Sharif also believes flood-related fatalities would diminish if Texas conducted a public education campaign to make residents and visitors aware of the dangers posed by floodwaters.

"If you see six inches of floodwater, you need to turn around," said Sharif. "And, trucks and SUVs are not necessarily an exception. Our research shows it doesn't matter what kind of vehicle you drive. Floodwaters don't discriminate."

Sharif's research also indicates that a motorist's chances of dying in a flood-related incident are reduced 50 percent if a woman is in the car. That's regardless of whether she's a driver or a passenger.

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How motorists can stay safe in a flood

  • Stay put during heavy rain if you can. Driving during a storm only increases your chances of danger.
  • Slow down if you're forced to drive during rains.
  • Pay careful attention to highway exits that are prone to flooding.
  • Don't assume you know the roads. An undeveloped area responds to floods differently than a developed area, which is prone to flooding because concrete restricts water absorption.
  • Pay attention to television and radio flood warnings. They're broadcasted for a reason.
  • Remember that flooding dangers may remain two to three hours after the rain stops.