'Turn around, don't drown,' say public officials after flooding in Idaho Falls - East Idaho News

‘Turn around, don’t drown,’ say public officials after flooding in Idaho Falls

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IDAHO FALLS — After low-lying streets in Idaho Falls flooded Tuesday evening, officials are warning the public to stay safe if more flooding occurs.

More showers and thunderstorms are forecasted for Wednesday through the next several days, possibly even into the weekend. Whether those storms cause more flooding could be determined by where the rain falls.

“If you don’t dump a bunch of rain on the exact same spot, it might not happen,” said Audra Moore, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “But if you get another storm that can dump a quarter, to a half an inch of rain, then you could see some more flash flooding potentially.”

On Tuesday, the NWS recorded 1.27 inches of rainfall, most of it occurring within a two hour period from around 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

“That’s quite a bit of rain in a short amount of time,” Moore said.

While it might not sound like much, the average amount of rainfall for May in Idaho Falls is 1.57 inches for the whole month.

“So not quite to (the monthly average), but definitely approaching it,” Moore said. Most of that rainfall occurred within a two hour timespan.

The amount of rainfall on Tuesday evening was a record amount for May 23 in twenty years of NWS data.

Because water flows downhill, areas of the city that are at the lowest elevation collect the rest of the city’s rainwater. This is why flooding in several underpasses was as deep as it was, causing multiple vehicles to get stuck in the water.

The Idaho Falls Fire Department responded to 76 calls within 24 hours, including several water rescues. They also responded to two child births and two cardiac arrests.

Department spokeswoman Kerry Hammon warns people to pay attention to alerts from the NWS and to stay off the roads during flash flooding events. If people do need to go out on the roads and they see flooded streets, the mantra is, “Turn around, don’t drown.”

“Don’t go through it because it only takes a foot or two (of water) to stop a vehicle,” Hammon said. “As we saw several times last night, people think they can just drive through it and they can’t.”

Moore explained, “You don’t know if the road has been washed out. It only takes six inches of fast moving water to sweep a person off their feet and about 12 inches of fast moving water to move a small car off the road.”

“The power of water is definitely an underestimated thing,” Moore said.

AAA spokesman Matthew Conde recommends finding alternate routes if you run into standing water. He explained potholes or debris on a submerged road could damage a person’s vehicle.

“There could be all sorts of hidden dangers under the water,” he said.

He also explained changes in the road level could lead to a driver entering much deeper water then they anticipated.

“Road surfaces aren’t as flat and level as we think they are in our mind’s eye,” Conde said. “Even a slight change in elevation of just a foot or two could mean that the water that you’re about to drive through is in fact much deeper than you thought it would be.”

Conde said if someone does find themselves stuck in flood waters, trying to push forward could make the situation much worse.

Hammon said those who find themselves in or are witnessing life-threatening situations should call 911. If a person goes into the water to try and rescue someone, they could just find themselves in need of saving as well.

Hammon said they saw pictures of people kayaking in the floodwaters, and they wanted to discourage people from that because it’s unsanitary and dangerous.

“So just stay out of the water. Don’t swim in it, don’t kayak in it,” Hammon said.