There are many types of floods, and Iowa can see them all. Let’s break down some of the different products the National Weather Service issues, so you know exactly what they mean when issued.

Flooding from Four Mile Creek (WHO-HD)

Types of Flood Products

Flash Flood Watch: Issued when there is a threat for rapidly rising flood waters. Flooding is not occurring yet, but still possible. Those in the watch area should stay informed and be ready to take action if a warning is issued.

Flash Flood Warning: Issued when flooding is currently a significant threat to life and property. Typically used within 6 hours of intense rainfall. This can result in major street flooding, creeks quickly rising out of their banks.

Areal Flood Watch: Issued when there is a threat for a gradual increase in flood waters across an area. Flooding is not occurring yet, but still possible. Those in the watch area should stay informed and be ready to take action if a warning is issued.

Areal Flood Warning: Issued for flooding that develops more gradually/slowly. It can still be a threat to life and property. Typically used when rainfall occurs over multiple days leading to gradual ponding and buildup of water in flood-prone areas. They usually cover larger areas.

River Flood Watch: Issued when there is a threat for river flooding at the specific point in the river that is indicated. Flooding is not occurring yet, but still possible. Those in the watch area or near this point on the river should stay informed and be ready to take action if a warning is issued.

River Flood Warning: Issued when a river is forecast to rise above its designated flood stage at the forecast point. River forecasts from the NWS will show the expected rise level at a certain point.

Flood Watch: Issued when there is a threat for flooding over a large area due to favorable weather conditions. Typically issued for several counties. Flooding is not occurring yet, but still possible. Those in the watch area or near this point on the river should stay informed and be ready to take action if a warning is issued.

Flood Warning: Issued when a flood is occurring or about to occur in the highlighted area.

Flood Advisory: Issued when flooding is not considered a significant threat to life and property. It’s used more for nuisance flooding that happens in low-lying and poorly draining areas. It can lead to some minor street flooding, cause inconvenience.

July 1, 2018. Bridge near E 33rd and Hubbell where drivers became stranded because of flooding.

What to do before a flood occurs

  • Know what the risk is and stay informed. Knowing the difference between each type of warning will help you distinguish what type of action you need to take.
  • Put together an emergency kit that you can take with you if you need to evacuate. This will include a 3 days supply of food, water, and medicine (for humans and pets), first aid kit, chargers, flashlights, and more.
  • Prepare your family and pets. Talk through your plan with children to reduce confusion and fear when it matters most.
  • Make alternative plans for a safe place to stay or go to.
  • Ensure you have Wireless Emergency Alerts turned on through your phone.

What to do during a flood

  • Stay informed by listening to local forecasts and information
  • Get to higher ground.
  • Never drive or walk through flood waters. Why? The road may be broken up below the water line, or the water may be deeper than it looks. The water may also contain toxic chemicals and sharp objects you won’t be able to see. Always turn around and find higher ground if you see water covering a roadway.
  • It only takes 6 inches of water to sweep a person off their feet, 12 inches of water to sweep away a car or small SUV, and 18 inches can sweep away large vehicles including semis.
  • Especially stay out of water that may have electricity (outlets, downed power lines, etc.) in it to avoid electric shock.
  • Obey evacuation orders. Lock your home when you leave.
USPS mail truck stuck in floodwaters in Ames. (WHO-HD)

What to do after a flood occurs

  • Continue to avoid any flood waters as they may contain toxic chemicals and/or sharp objects that you can’t see.
  • Stay informed by listening to local officials and the local news especially since the water from the tap may not be safe to drink or cook with.
  • Stay out of disaster areas as it could disrupt rescue and emergency operations.
  • Contact family and loved ones to let them know you are okay.
  • Wait for the all-clear from officials. Never enter a flood-damaged home or building that you don’t have permission to go into, even if it is your own.