Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States, and Pennsylvania has the highest flooding rate of any state. Not all floods are the same. Heavy rain can cause floods. Warm temperatures after snowfall can cause floods. Flash floods can happen even without any rain in the area. You should be ready for flooding no matter where you live, but especially if you live in a low-lying area, near water, or downstream from a dam. Even a small stream or dry creek bed can overflow and cause flooding.
Differences between a warning and a watch
Flash flood watch
A warning that flash flooding might occur due to heavy rain.
Flash flood warning
A warning that flash flooding is expected due to heavy rain.
Prepare for flooding
- Know your area’s flood risk. To see what your flood risk and flood insurance premium might be, visit FloodSmart.gov, or call (800) 427-2419.
- Make a list of what you own, including furniture, clothing, and valuables.
- Fill out a family emergency plan. Write down important names and phone numbers for you and your family in case of an emergency.
- Have a go bag ready that you can grab in case you need to leave your home in a hurry.
- Learn the safest route from your home to high ground in case you have to evacuate. This should be part of your family emergency plan.
- Keep materials such as sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting, and lumber on hand to help protect your home.
- Think about getting flood insurance. Losses due to flooding are not covered under a homeowner’s policy. Flood insurance is offered through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
- Be sure to review the Severe Weather Safety Guide (PDF) for more information.
Sign up for ReadyPhiladelphia, the region’s emergency text and email alert system. The alerts are free, but standard text messaging rates may apply.
If major flooding happens:
- Turn off all utilities at the main power switch. If required, close main gas valve.
- If you are wet or standing in water, do not touch any electrical equipment because it can cause electrocution.
- Fill bathtubs, sinks, and jugs with clean water in case you can’t use tap water. You can clean these containers by rinsing them with bleach.
- Bring outdoor lawn furniture, garbage cans, and other loose items inside the house or secure them outside.
During a flood
- Keep a battery-operated AM/FM radio set to a local station and follow emergency instructions.
- Move to higher ground if it is safe to do so.
- Move to a higher floor if you’re caught inside by high waters. Take warm clothing, a flashlight, and a portable radio with you. Wait for help. Do not try to swim to safety.
- Take your go bag and leave your current location if it is unsafe and you need to evacuate.
- Avoid flooded areas when moving around outside. Do not attempt to walk across flood water deeper than your knee. Water can be much deeper than it looks.
In a vehicle
- Avoid flooded roads. Just two feet of moving water can sweep a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) off the road.
- Get out and leave your car if it stalls in a flooded area.
After a flood
- Check for structural damage before re-entering a building to make sure it is not in danger of collapsing.
- Turn off any outside gas lines at the meter or tank and let the building air out for several minutes to remove foul odors and escaping gas.
- Turn off the electricity in all flooded rooms.
- Watch for electrical shorts or live wires before turning off the main power switch.
- Do not turn on any lights or appliances until an electrician has checked the system for short circuits.
- Cover broken windows and holes in the roof or walls to prevent further weather damage.
- Take pictures of all damage and flood impacts. Keep receipts for all repairs if you intend to apply for disaster assistance or make an insurance claim.
Clean up safely
- Remove all water by mopping, pumping, wet vacuuming, or clearing drains.
- Clean and thoroughly dry all wet light fixtures. Don’t turn the electricity on until the fixtures are dry.
- Until the public water system has been declared safe, boil water for 10 minutes before using.
- Ceiling tiles, paper products, baseboards, and insulation that has been damaged by water.
- All drywall up to four feet above the floodwater line.
- Furniture that has absorbed water such as mattresses, sofas, and upholstered chairs.
- Medicines and food that touched floodwater.
- Perishable foods that have not been refrigerated for more than six hours.
- Frozen foods that have thawed.