Floods are a common hazard in Missouri. Flood effects can be local, impacting a neighborhood or community, or very large, affecting entire river basins and multiple states. And there are major differences between flash floods and those that develop slowly—over a period of days and even weeks.
As the name indicates, flash floods can develop quickly, sometimes in just a few minutes and without any visible signs of rain. Flash floods often have a dangerous wall of roaring water that carries rocks, mud, and other debris and can sweep away most things in their paths. Overland flooding occurs outside a defined river or stream, such as when a levee is breached, and, while slower developing, is destructive and potentially deadly. Flooding can also occur when a dam breaks, producing effects similar to flash floods.
Be aware of flood hazards no matter where you live, but especially if you live in a low-lying area, near water or downstream from a dam. Even very small streams, gullies, creeks, culverts, dry streambeds, or low-lying ground that appears harmless in dry weather can flood and become potentially dangerous.
Familiarize yourself with the terms used to identify flood hazards:
- Flood Watch means flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
- Flash Flood Watch means flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
- Flood Warning means flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
- Flash Flood Warning means flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately.
Preparedness tips before a flood
Create a plan for where you and your family will go in the event of a flood. Always be alert to changing weather conditions:
- Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to commercial radio or television newscasts for the latest information.
- Be aware that flash flooding can occur. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground. Do not wait for instructions to move.
- Be aware of streams, drainage channels and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas with or without such typical warnings as rain clouds or heavy rain.
If you must prepare to evacuate, you should do the following:
- Secure your home. If you have time, bring in outdoor furniture. Move essential items to an upper floor.
- Turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.
What to do during a flood:
If you have to leave your home, remember these evacuation tips:
- Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
- Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be quickly swept away. Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and possible stalling.
- A foot of water will float many vehicles. Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles, including sport utility vehicles and pick-ups.
What to do in the aftermath of a flood:
- Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
- Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage. Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
- Avoid moving water.
- Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
- Stay away from downed power lines, and report them to the power company.
- Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe.
- Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by floodwaters.
- Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations.
- Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewage systems are serious health hazards.
- Clean and disinfect everything that became wet. Mud left from floodwater can contain sewage and chemicals.
What to do if you have unmet needs following a flood
Throughout the recovery period, it is important to monitor local radio or television reports and other media sources for information about where to get emergency housing, food, first aid, clothing, and financial assistance. The following section provides general information about the kinds of assistance that may be available.
Direct assistance to individuals and families may come from any number of organizations, including:
Missouri chapters of the Red Cross:
- American Red Cross Saint Louis Area, St. Louis
- Greater Kansas City Chapter, Kansas City
- Greater Ozarks Chapter, Springfield
- Midland Empire Chapter, St. Joseph
- Missouri Capital Area Chapter, Jefferson City
- North Central Missouri Chapter, Kirksville
- Northeast Missouri Chapter, Hannibal
- Pettis County Chapter, Sedalia
- Southeast Missouri Chapter, Cape Girardeau
Other volunteer and faith-based organizations
These organizations provide food, shelter, supplies and assist in clean-up efforts.
Detailed additional information can be found at the following websites:
- National Weather Service – St. Louis Office
- National Weather Service – Kansas City Office
- National Weather Service – Springfield Office
- National Weather Service – River Forecasts – Eastern Missouri, including Mississippi River
- National Weather Service – River Forecasts – Western Missouri, including Missouri River
- Missouri Ready in 3 Program’s Weather Preparedness Page
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Emergency Preparedness and Response, flood information
- Missouri Dept. of Transportation’s Road Conditions
Missouri's Ready in 3 Program also provides free family safety guides to help prepare your family and household or call (573) 526-4768 to order a free family safety guide. The family safety guide is available in several languages.
- Ready.gov - Floods
- Ready.gov is the federal government's best resource for general emergency preparedness and disaster readiness information for citizens. Learn how to prepare for flooding.
- FEMA.gov - Floods
- Preparedness information and strategies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
- University of Missouri Extension: Floods
- Publications available from the University of Missouri Outreach & Extension can assist individuals and families prepare for Missouri flooding.