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A Simple Guide to Understanding Flood Definitions and Warnings

If you have ever been the victim of a flood, you know how difficult it can be to recover from flood damage. Aside from the time needed for the water repair process, there is the emotional toll that losing valuable belongings takes on your life for weeks and months after. Do not let yourself be taken off guard by flood water! Stay alert to flood-related watches and warnings and know where to go in the case of an emergency.

Keeping a weather radio in your home is a good way to stay informed of any impeding threats, especially rapid onset weather phenomenon like flash floods. Once you get a weather radio, you will notice that the warnings regarding flood risk are varied depending on the conditions and possible threat level. We will decode the hydrological terms that you may hear:


Flood Watch


A “flood watch” informs the public that the conditions are right for possible flooding, but does not indicate that flooding is imminent or certain. A flood watch can be issued for a very specific area (like a section of a particular river or county), or it can be issued for a much broader area (like a large area of the state). For this reason, it is important to know where you are located in your county, which counties surround you and what bodies of water are near you so that you can be sure to take the right precautions at home, on your daily commute, etc.


Flash Flood Warning


A “flash flood warning” is the next level of flood alert and is issued when flooding is imminent over a short period of time. Generally flash flood warnings are issued during storms when a large amount of precipitation is falling. Most often, flash flood warnings will be issued for entire counties, sections of counties, valley areas or basins where flooding is likely to be localized.


Flood Warning


A “flood warning” does the same job of a flash flood warning, just over a longer period of time. A flood warning can pertain to high water flow or water overflow from public drainage systems. Depending on the nature of the flood warning, it can be classified as either an aerial warning or a river warning. River flood warnings will name an area of concern and also include areas that are downstream from that point, as those areas may also be affected.


Small Stream Advisories


An advisory is less urgent than a warning. As such, an advisory will sometimes be issued first and then be followed by a watch or warning if conditions worsen. “Small stream advisories” are not just applicable to rural areas because urban areas may also receive small stream advisories from time to time. While these are not nearly as serious as watches or warnings, they should be monitored to ensure that they are not escalated.


Lakeshore Flood Watch


Areas along the Great Lakes are also subject to “lakeshore flood watches,” which are issued when lake levels are reported to be above normal levels. A lakefront flood watch does not just affect properties along the lake itself, but also properties along the lake’s bays and connecting waterways.


Lakeshore Flood Warning


Like lakeshore flood watches, “lakeshore flood warnings” apply to the areas surrounding the Great Lakes. Unlike the flood watches, however, lakeshore flood warnings indicate imminent flooding effects from higher than normal lake levels. This overflow can range from minor overflow onto surrounding banks to significant overflow accompanied by shore erosion depending on the topography of the area in question.


If you have experienced flood water damage and are in need of water pump out or water repair services, please call USA Water and Fire Restoration at 1-800-501-3046 today! If you were the victim of a flood and developed home mold damage afterwards, we can help with that too!

Additional resources:
Flood evacuation information
What happens if your house floods?
Is a house with a basement more likely to flood?
The most common flood risks
How do you recover after a flood?
Do you need to be concerned about flooding?
How to file an insurance claim for flood damage
What are the costs of flood damage restoration?
Is basement restoration after a flood expensive?
Steps to take after a flood
How severe can flood damage be?
How does a home warranty help with basement flooding?
What disinfectants help after a basement flood?
Who is responsible for flood damage?
What is the danger of a flooded basement?