Flood safety: How to prepare for a flood in Texas

September 30, 2021

Learn about what causes flooding in Texas and how you can prepare your family and home for floods.

A series of houses flooded in Texas 
According to Ready.gov, floods are the most common natural disaster in the U.S., and the same is true for Texas. Although some parts of Texas are certainly more prone to flooding than others, flooding can happen almost anywhere, and often without much notice.  

For this reason, it’s important that you know how to prepare for a flood in Texas. Below, we’ll dive into what causes flooding in Texas and what you can do to protect your family and your home by preparing ahead of time. Read on!

Main causes of flooding in Texas

Knowing the main causes of flooding in Texas will help you better prepare for when a flood is coming. While your home may not be vulnerable to one particular type of flooding, different parts of the Lone Star state are susceptible to different causes. Let's take a look at some of the most common causes of flooding here in Texas.

Flash flooding

Flash floods are floods that happen quickly, typically within 6 hours of the start of the cause. When there is heavy rainfall from thunderstorms or multiple thunderstorms in the same area, the sudden downpour can change the water levels quickly. 

Urban areas and city centers are especially at risk for flash flooding. The asphalt and concrete surfaces don’t absorb water or allow it to penetrate easily. Even in rural areas, or areas without much ground cover, land that has seen a substantial amount of rain in a short period of time can become saturated.

Like a soaked sponge, the ground can no longer absorb water which can cause it to accumulate in rivers, creeks, and streams at an alarming rate. When this happens, even small waterways can turn into raging rivers. 

While heavy rain is the most common cause of flash flooding, levee or dam failure and ice or debris jams can also cause flash floods. That means that even if it’s not a season where there’s typically heavy rainfall in Texas (spring and summer), there can still be flash flooding.

River flooding

As you can probably guess, river flooding happens when the water levels in a river rise and overflow their banks or edges of the main channel and then pour into areas that are typically dry. Heavy rains, dam failures, quick snowmelt, and ice jams can all cause river floods.

There are three different types of classifications for river flooding: minor, moderate, and major. These classifications are determined based on water height and impacts along the river.

With minor river flooding, low-lying areas near the river flood, typically rural areas and farmland. Moderate flooding happens when water levels rise high enough to start impacting homes, businesses, and roads in the area near the river. Evacuations may need to occur for moderate flooding.

With major flooding, there’s extensive rural and urban flooding. When this happens, major traffic routes may become flooded and towns may become blocked. Evacuations may also be necessary during this time.

Tropical systems

Tropical systems or hurricanes can come over the ocean during any time of the year, bringing heavy rains to the coast. These storms can move further inland once they hit the shore. In addition, storms that aren’t tropical in nature can also form, causing heavy rain and flooding in coastal areas of Texas.

Storm surge and waves are the major causes of flooding in a tropical storm or hurricane. They’re not only a threat to roads, homes, and buildings but also human life. With constantly agitating water that’s rising due to the storm, building foundations can be completely undermined leading to building damage and even loss of life.

Tropical systems and coastal storms are not only an issue for cities along the coastline of Texas. Storms in the Gulf of Mexico often move inland, bringing heavy rain with the potential for flooding.

Dam breaks and levee failure

A dam break or levee failure can happen at any time with little to no warning. Most often the causes of breaks and failures are either water overtopping the structure, structural failure, or extreme seepage through the ground surrounding the structure.

While failures and breaches can take days or weeks to occur, severe storms can cause a flash flood in a matter of minutes or hours.

How to prepare for a flood

Now that you know how floods occur, you may be heading to your favorite search engine to ask, “What to do in a flood?” Knowing the basics of flood safety will help ensure that you are doing all you can to protect yourself, your family, and your home from flood damage.

Here are some tips for how to prepare for a flood in Texas:

1. Know your risks.

The first thing you’ll want to do to prepare for a flood is to know the risks of flooding in your area. Check FEMA Flood Map Service Center to find out if you’re at risk of flooding.

Just because your area is not at particular risk for flooding in general, you may still be at risk for flooding during specific events close to or in your area. For up-to-date emergency information, listen to the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio.

2. Purchase flood insurance.

Homeowner’s insurance policies don’t include flood insurance. That’s why it’s vital to purchase or renew your flood insurance policy, which are issued through the National Flood Insurance Program. It can take up to 30 days for the policy to go into effect, so make sure that you’re getting it before you need it!

Check with your insurance agent to find out what steps you need to take to get the right flood insurance coverage. see if you have the right coverage and right amounts of coverage.

3. Safely store important documents.

Make sure that all your important documents are stored safely. Collect originals of documents like birth certificates, passports, insurance papers, and medical records. Store them in a watertight safety deposit box. You don’t want to lose these documents when you might need them most - during an emergency!

You should also keep copies of these documents somewhere you can easily take and access them. You might take pictures on your phone or keep a flash drive so that you can easily take them with you in a hurry.

4. Replenish your emergency kit.

Every household should create an emergency kit with medical supplies and other materials that would come in handy during an emergency. Here are just a few things you might keep in your kit:
  • Water
  • Canned food
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Batteries
  • Gloves
  • Whistle
  • Dust mask
  • Duct tape
  • Moist towelettes
  • Garbage bags
  • Wrench or pliers
  • Manual can opener
  • Prescription medications
Make sure that your kit is well-stocked and in an easily accessible place. If you have pets, include some emergency pet supplies like food and water.

5. Take a home inventory.

Take inventory of all the major household items and valuables in your home. Your insurance provider should have a home inventory checklist template you can download to make the process easier (like this one). Keep this inventory in a safe place. It will be important in the event of a flood or other natural disaster when you may need to file insurance claims afterward.

6. Be prepared to evacuate.

You should be prepared to evacuate in the event of a flood or other natural disaster. Make a plan with your family for what will happen in the event of an evacuation. Know which route you will take ahead of time, and make sure you have fuel in your vehicle.

If it’s not safe for you and your family to stay in your home, then it’s not safe for your pets either. Make sure that you include your pets in your evacuation plan.

If you have the opportunity, try to shut off the power in your home before you leave. If flood waters enter your home, the electricity can become a serious hazard

What to do during a flood if you can't evacuate

During a flood, if you are advised to leave your home, it's important to act quickly. Roads become impassable very quickly - only a few inches of water on a road can sweep an adult off their feet, and it doesn't take much more to wash away a car. If all of your evacuation routes are flooded, don't risk crossing to evacuate.

In the event that you are stuck at home during a flood stay put, and don't try to swim through the flowing water. It is often much more powerful than it appears, and can be filled with any number of hazards. Move to the highest possible level. However, avoid moving into the attic or another floor that is closed off as you may become trapped when the flood waters rise. Only move to the roof if you have no other alternatives. If you are forced onto your roof, make yourself as visible as possible and do your best to signal for help. 

Flooding can have serious impacts on both property and people. That’s why it’s essential to prepare the best you can for a flood, especially if you are in an area with a high risk of flooding.

A sign warning against a flooded road in Texas

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by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.