Rain, not heavy winds or lightning, most dangerous effect of hurricanes

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – When it comes to hurricanes, many weather-watchers focus on the storm’s category or its wind speeds while the radar’s colors grow darker. But during this year’s first hurricane, it was actually the rain that caused the most local problems.

Of course, the heavy winds and the lightning strikes are all dangerous and life-threatening. It’s flooding, though, that remains the nation’s top weather-related killer. And summertime, according to National Weather Service Hyrrologist Nicole Belk, is the prime season for for an especially dangerous kind of flooding — flash flooding.

Unlike river flooding, which typically has at least a bit of warning time in advance of the rising water levels, flash flooding can happen in a matter of minutes.

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.”You could have some instances where you have an inch of rain in 15 minutes,” Belk said. “In a really torrential downpour of that intensity, the storm drains can’t handle that, and that’s when you get flash flooding.”

Driving through flooded streets — like the streets in New Bedford during last month’s Hurricane Arthur — can be especially dangerous. A local fire chief told Eyewitness News his crews respond to 15-20 car rescues every year due to flooded roads. He said drivers become overconfident and drive through dangerous levels of water.

(Photo: Andrew Adamson/WPRI)
(Photo: Andrew Adamson/WPRI)

“A quick reference may be the curb on the side of the street,” the chief said. “If the water is on the curb, it’s something to be aware of.”

In fact, he said just six inches of rushing water could be enough to damage your vehicle?

So what do you do if you are approaching a water-covered road? The fire chief’s response: Turn around.

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