Prepping for floods
We really hope you don't need these tips, but here's how to get ahead of the water before it gets all over you.
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Written by Sonder
Updated over a week ago

Every year in Australia seems to follow a pattern that involves bushfires, floods, and a dash of the ongoing pandemic before it repeats all over again. So rather than get caught out by the floods whenever Mother Nature decides to say, "let's go for round two," we're going to get ahead of the game by sharing some handy tips on getting prepped and ready before any potential flooding comes in.

From getting supplies packed to getting your home and family ready, we've got you covered so you'll be prepared for the next flood event.

What is a flood?

A flood is defined by the Bureau of Meteorology as “an overflow of water beyond the normal limits of a watercourse. Flooding occurs when water extends over what is usually dry land. This can happen when it escapes from a natural watercourse, such as a lake, river or creek. It can also happen when water is released from a reservoir, canal or dam”.

There are two types of flooding: riverine and flash:

  • Riverine flooding is when a river breaks its bank and water covers the surrounding land. This flood is mostly caused by heavy rainfall, but can also be caused by king tides, storm surges, snowmelt, and dam releases. In inland parts of Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, riverine flooding can affect thousands of square kilometres for weeks or even months at a time.

  • Flash flooding occurs within six hours of rain falling. It can happen after a short burst of heavy rain, such as rainfall from a thunderstorm. Flash floods can be a serious problem in urban areas if drainage systems cannot cope and therefore affect a localised area.

What causes a flood?

  • Heavy Rainfall

    • The most common cause of riverine and flash flooding is heavy rainfall.

    • Rivers have a maximum capacity to carry water. More rainfall than usual creates more runoff than usual. This runoff can't be carried by the river channel, so it spills out onto the land. When the time between rainfall and flooding is longer than six hours, this is a riverine flood.

  • King Tide

    • The term 'king tide' is widely used to describe an exceptionally high tide.

  • Storm surge

    • A storm surge is a rise above the normal seawater level along the shore which is caused by a storm.

  • Snowmelt

    • When conditions warm rapidly, snow can melt quickly. When this occurs it can release volumes of water far greater than the capacity of downstream river channels, causing riverine flooding

  • Dam releases

    • Dams have the ability to hold vast amounts of water but do have a capacity. When a dam is close to capacity, dam operators may release water and sometimes this can cause flooding.

Things to do before the flood

There are a bunch of little things you can do before a potential flood comes in that'll make your life much easier down the line, and all it takes is a few minutes.

  • Know your area and stay informed - Find out if you live in an area that's prone to flooding so you can understand your potential risks better, and stay up-to-date on the latest weather warnings and alerts (which you can do at the BOM website).

  • Ask Questions about flooding in your area

    • When did floods previously affect the area?

    • How high were they?

    • How quickly did the water rise?

    • How long did the flooding last?

    • Is there a flood plan for my area?

    • At what point do I need to evacuate my house?

    • If I need to evacuate, where do I go?

    • Will my house become isolated?

  • Know where to go and who to call - Figure out the safest route to travel in the event that you need to evacuate and check in with friends and family outside the flood-prone area so you have a place to go. Make sure you also have all the relevant emergency numbers handy and ready to go if you need it.

  • Get supplies ready - Flood-appropriate clothing and footwear, a first aid kit, torch, radio, drinking water, non-perishable food, toiletries, spare power packs and batteries for your devices, and all your important documents (like passports, insurance documents, etc) are a must so you'll be ready for any emergency situation. For a checklist on what you should have, Get Ready QLD is a great resource.

  • Put together an emergency plan - When the floods do come, you'll have an idea of what to do rather than making it up on the go. For ideas on what to do for your plan, head over to the NSW SES website for some handy plan templates.

  • Tie things down - You'll likely have a bunch of large and loose items around your home so make sure those are safely secured and stored away.

  • Prep your home - Make sure you have the right insurance policy in place as some don't cover you for damage caused by natural disasters. You'd want to be insured properly rather than not!

  • Learn and understand how the Total Flood Warning System works - Familiarise yourself with these important terms:

    • Flood Watch – issued to advise of possible future flooding if the rain forecast suggests it may happen in the next few days.

    • Flood Warning – issued when flooding is expected in a particular location or catchment.

    • Flash flooding – happens less than six hours after rainfall. When flash flooding is expected, we issue a Severe Weather Warning.

    • Minor flooding – causes inconvenience. Low-lying areas next to water courses are inundated.

    • Moderate flooding – the area of inundation is more substantial. Main traffic routes may be affected. Some buildings may be affected above floor level.

    • Major flooding – extensive areas are inundated. Many buildings may be affected above floor level. Properties and towns are likely to be isolated and major rail and traffic routes closed.

  • Know the 3 Australian Warning Systems for flood and tsunami warnings

    • For a detailed explanation of the warning system, we've got you covered here.

What to do if a flood hits

The water is rising and you've been told to get to safety, so what's next? It's important to stay calm and evacuate as quickly as possible.

  • Pack your clothes and emergency supplies you prepared earlier.

  • Get out your emergency plan and follow it.

  • Inform a neighbour, friend, family, or the authorities about where you're going.

  • Make sure all the power, gas, and water in your home is turned off and everything is locked up.

  • NEVER drive through floodwater, it's dangerous even in a 4WD.

  • Follow the instructions given to you by the authorities.

  • Stay up-to-date on weather alerts, updates, and safety notices from authorities via radio and online.

For more detailed flood and wild weather information and content, we've got you covered right here and here.

Flood zone areas

Whether you're a local that knows your area well, or just visiting the region, it's important to understand whether you're in a risk area. The following resources provide a good overview of areas at high risk of flooding:

Sonder's team is constantly monitoring the latest weather warnings across Australia and will send out alerts to members who are in affected areas. To ensure you receive these alerts in a timely way, ensure you enable location and message permissions in the Sonder app. Find out more:

If you have any questions or need support before, during or after a flooding event, we're here to help you anytime, in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: NSW SES, Get Ready QLD, and Apia.

Image credit: NSW SES Facebook

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

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