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How to survive flash flooding in a Utah slot canyon and elsewhere

Images of flash flooding at Capitol Reef National Park, Photo credit: Capitol Reef National Park

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s important to understand how to survive flash flooding, especially if you hike in Utah.  Because a beautiful hike in a southern Utah slot canyon can turn deadly in an instant as a raging flash flood turns the canyon into a channel of racing water, rock, tree trunks, limbs, silt, and debris.

How to survive flash flooding in a slot canyon

Know this — you cannot outrun it. 

So if rain is in the forecast, avoid slot canyons. And if you’re hiking a slot canyon, watch for clouds that start to gather.

It doesn’t even need to be raining where you are hiking for a flash flood to start. Rain could be falling miles away from you. And did you know this — flash floods can form hours after a rainstorm has passed. An area previously dry can become soaked with water in minutes.

Video Shows How Fast Deadly Flash Flooding Filled Slot Canyon

Have an escape plan. Tell someone where you are hiking, when you plan to return, and check in with that person when you do.

If you are in a slot canyon and it begins to rain, find higher ground immediately. That might involve backtracking along the trail. DO NOT take time to pick up your gear.

Know the danger and be prepared

Floods are the second deadliest weather hazard, and flash floods are the deadliest type of flood worldwide, according to Scientific American.

Zion National Park offers tips on how to avoid flash floods and how to survive them

Know before you  go:

Bookmark and consult Zion’s flash flood potential rating system

You can also check the NOAA Flash Flood Rating forecast for current information on flash-flood risk.

If you are near an existing stream, these are the signs of an impending flash flood:

  • Surge in water
  • Change in water color
  • Roaring water sound
  • Increased debris in the water

Flash floods push a wall of debris ahead of them and swiftly carry tree trunks, limbs, garbage, and silt. This first wave of flooding can knock down fully grown, healthy adults. Six inches of water can knock you off your feet. Death most often occurs from blunt force trauma.

If you are caught in a flood: 

  • Grab a stick to poke ahead for hazards like rocks, debris, and holes. If you can move out of moving water, you are more likely to survive.
  • Try to grab and hold onto something sturdy to keep going downstream.
  • Go over not under objects.
  • It’s better to break an ankle than your skull, so point your feet downstream.

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