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What If You are Stranded On A Flooded Jeep Path?

Do not enter when flooded.” It’s a vivid yellow highway signal you’ve in all probability seen subsequent to drainage areas and bridges, however have you ever given it any actual thought? Sadly, most motorists merely tune out these warnings. When extreme climate does happen, far too many drivers enterprise into areas the place their autos merely can’t go — akin to turning into stranded on a flooded jeep path — resulting in precarious rescues and even preventable fatalities. In response to the Nationwide Climate Service, a median of 95 individuals die every year from flash flooding, and almost two-thirds of these deaths happen in autos. A research revealed by the College of Arizona additionally concluded that the majority motorists who crossed flooded areas did so because of a calculated determination, not an impulsive one — “they tended to cross if it appeared that climate situations have been getting worse, if they may not discover one other route, and in the event that they noticed that autos had efficiently crossed.”

Photo of a modified Jeep Wrangler crossing a river during a flash flood.

Should you discovered your self stranded in worsening storm situations with a flooded highway forward, how would you gauge your capability to flee the state of affairs? Must you keep put and threat worse flooding at your present location, or try to drive out rigorously to achieve security? We requested survival teacher Kevin Estela and overlanding skilled Rick Stowe how they’d take care of this harmful predicament.

The Situation

Scenario Sort

Flash flood evacuation

Your Crew

Your self and your 8-year-old daughter


Southern United States


Summer season


Looming storm clouds; excessive 92 levels F, low 74 levels F

The Setup: As a father, you’re a giant believer in spending high quality time along with your youngsters within the nice outside. You’ve gone on numerous father-daughter adventures along with your first-born — tenting, fishing, mountain climbing, and loads of weekends off-roading collectively in your Jeep Wrangler. For her eighth birthday, you resolve to load up the Jeep with provides and drive from your property within the Midwest down to go to a member of the family who lives on the Gulf Coast. Alongside the way in which, you hit a number of off-road trails and camp out in a single day. For a lot of the journey, the climate has been overcast with scattered showers, however as you get nearer to the coast, you discover the forecast predicts heavier rain from an incoming tropical storm. Nonetheless, it appears manageable, and not one of the locals you’ve met appear particularly involved. You’ve solely acquired yet another evening of tenting earlier than you attain your relative’s residence, so that you head out on the path to discover a campsite one final time.

The Complication: You awake in the midst of the evening to the sound of rain hammering your tent. Rolling out of your cot, the ground undulates like a waterbed beneath your ft. Exterior the tent, water is already ankle-deep and it’s solely getting worse. You wake your daughter and inform her you’ll each must take shelter within the Jeep, for the reason that tent isn’t going to have the ability to maintain out the rising water for lengthy. As you fireplace up the engine and activate the headlights, you understand that the state of affairs is even worse than you thought. The path again to the principle highway is clearly flooded — some areas are simply muddy, whereas others are submerged in flowing water. You recall crossing creek beds in your manner into the positioning which may be a foot deep by now, given this quantity of rainfall. The climate solely appears to be getting extra intense, and this complete space could also be submerged quickly. There’s no cell service, and also you’re a number of miles from the closest paved highway or occupied construction.

What are you able to do on this quickly escalating state of affairs? Must you anticipate a break within the climate earlier than trying to drive on the partially flooded path? Or do you have to try to drive out of the hazard zone instantly earlier than the flood will get deeper? How would you gauge if a water crossing is satisfactory or too harmful? What are you able to do to stop your Jeep’s engine from sucking up water and stalling? In case your car will get caught, would you abandon it to hunt greater floor?

Photo of a flash flood warning sign. telling travelers to turn around when the road is flooded.

Survival Teacher Kevin Estela’s Method

“Jesus Christ!” I blurted solely to be corrected by my daughter, “That’s a sin, dad. Don’t swear.” My profanity was extra of a stunned prayer for assist than an expletive. How may we be caught off guard by this water? I grew up in New England and lived in Utah for 2 years, however I by no means skilled flooding like this. In my travels to and from Arizona for work, I handled monsoons, however I used to be by no means put right into a state of affairs the place that collective rainwater became a menace. Then once more, these instances weren’t like this one and I ought to have identified higher establishing camp so late at evening. That’s what I get for driving till I must sleep as an alternative of stopping once I need to sleep. The backcountry is open for journey however there’s all the time a trade-off. We’re on our personal to get out of this one.

Noticing the flood waters rising and the rain rising, I assume this flood is very like the flash floods we heard about on the customer heart. Within the Southwest, rain pouring miles away can journey underground and resurface as flooding above floor. I do know there’s no solution to predict how excessive the water will get, and we’ve to imagine the worst. Who is aware of how lengthy this storm band is? Regardless that I feel we’ve seen the worst of the storm, there may very well be much more rain coming, and the water might rise much more.

You may expertise chilly even in the summertime and within the desert. Add in moist clothes and sleeping luggage, and you may die from the chilly in a single day. Our best lifeline was our sleeping luggage, and we knew we needed to maintain them as dry as doable. We didn’t plan on tenting in moist climate, and we didn’t pack dry luggage. Trying over what we had left in our camp, we needed to improvise. Because it was the tail finish of our tenting weekend, we used the rubbish bag that lined our Trasharoo rear-tire rubbish holder to guard our sleeping equipment. We dumped out the contents and inverted the bag to make use of the clear outdoors to carry our luggage inside. The rain was coming down robust, and we needed to struggle the wind to shut the Jeep doorways, which did a mediocre job of stopping the horizontal rain from coming in.

When the water began to rise round us, the query “may this flood” was changed with “how dangerous will this flood be?” We didn’t have time to sacrifice ready round for that reply. Sadly for us, the place we arrange was in a ravine we didn’t discover at midnight. We arrived at camp late at evening and couldn’t see the close by terrain options. We disregarded the overall guidelines for establishing a camp and our haphazard choice value us. Happily for us, we all know we will shortly acquire elevation climbing to the highest of the draw by operating to the highest of the spur that results in the ridgeline. Between us and the spur is fast-paced water that I can’t decide the depth of. The one different possibility is heading again the way in which we got here via what seems now to be a creek mattress speeding with water.

Photo of flash flooding taking place in California early 2023.

We tune the radio to AM frequencies and begin scanning for any updates. That is model new for my daughter as she grew up in an age when terrestrial radio was falling out of favor, and every part turned a playlist plugged into the car. She’s small, and I process her with listening for “the weatherman” who’s giving an replace on what we’re experiencing. We all know storms don’t final eternally and maybe if we will get an thought how lengthy this storm will final, we will resolve if we must always hunker down or try an escape.

This ordeal supplied a wonderful alternative for me to talk to my daughter about life. Whereas some mother and father consider in sheltering their youngsters, I’d slightly educate them than maintain them ignorant and naive longer. She could also be upset with the choice to finish our tenting journey, however she’ll be alive, and he or she’ll forgive me finally. There’s no probability for reconciliation after demise. She was nervous once we woke to the water in our tent, and he or she didn’t totally comprehend the urgency in my voice. In a time like this, she must hearken to me as a dad or mum and never because the enjoyable dad or good friend.

The issue with flood water isn’t just the water. Our pores and skin is fairly tolerant to that within the quick time period. Water could be forceful, and it does have the facility to bend canoes and kayaks after they’re pinned up in opposition to rocks. Water also can float a car fairly simply and just some inches of water can provide a car buoyancy. What additionally worries me in flood water is what the flood water is carrying with it. Damaged off branches, basketball-sized rocks, sharp particles like bottles and trash discarded alongside the riverbanks and now within the mainstream. Murky water shouldn’t be seen as simply water. I can’t consider I’m critically occupied with crossing that water, however my daughter acquired drenched by the rain, and her situation has began to deteriorate.

I by no means would advocate crossing water of unknown depth if there’s a protected various to self-rescue. It goes in opposition to all logic and the recommendation of each trade skilled I’ve heard. On this circumstance, the selection turned very clear even when it was extremely determined. In my daughter’s makes an attempt to assist me, her garments turned soaking moist. The whole lot in our camp turned soaking moist, together with our lifesaving sleeping luggage, and never even the car’s heater appears to be warming her quick sufficient. She was shivering uncontrollably and has now change into disoriented and torpid. In my desperation to struggle off hypothermia, I needed to come to the belief that she may die if we don’t get her physique warmth up, and we may each die if we cross the river in an try to drive to security. I’ll be known as silly and careless for letting this state of affairs get so far, however I might slightly take care of insults than a funeral. No dad or mum needs to bury a baby, and the end result will weigh on me if I don’t act now.

Restoration boards are commonplace in my autos, and so they’re used greater than my winch. To keep away from shedding them in mud, I all the time connect a size of cordage tied to my bumper to pull them from the mud after I drive out of it. In these situations, prep like which means not shedding a lifesaving device. Traction boards work nice in dry situations, however they change into nearly not possible to carry onto when water is speeding over them. If I used them in these situations, I must threat shedding them, testing the tensile power of the leashes that maintain them to my rear bumper. Even trying to get them underneath the tires in shifting water may put my life in danger, so we’ll should depend on maintaining momentum.

Photo of an SUV driving down a water logged forest trail.

I take stock of the gear in camp. A tarp and a few bungee cords can be utilized to create an improvised grille cowl to scale back the chance of water flowing into the engine bay. I recall studying that ARB, a well known off-road gear firm, provides a “water crossing cowl” that attaches to the entrance of a car for this objective. It’s nearly like one of many previous vinyl automotive bras that turned common within the Eighties, however with out openings for airflow (or on this case, water stream). We aren’t in search of a water-proof seal, however slightly a boat-style bow wave that’ll redirect the water to the edges of the car, slightly than up into the engine compartment. I shortly minimize out an appropriate-sized part of tarp and lash it throughout the Jeep’s hood and bumper with the bungee cords.

My regular car loadout consists of a battery pack for jump-starting self-recovery, traction boards, and a shovel to unstick myself, in addition to some primary stay-alive gear like camp range, sleeping pads/luggage, water, and fire-starting tools. At any time when I journey to the desert, I all the time pack extra water than I would like with at the very least 2 to three gallons per individual per day. In off-road situations, mild is an asset, and we pack loads of excessive output handhelds to help the lights on our car. Now, as I put together to desert camp, I ditch any gear that’ll crush the Jeep and get it caught throughout our bugout.

After prepping the Jeep, we pull as much as the water’s edge. I activate the car’s roof-mounted mild bar to light up the riverbank on the far aspect, and I exploit my handheld mild to look at the financial institution to the driving force’s aspect of my rig. I’m in search of indicators of the high-water mark. The highlight reveals displaced foliage and folded-over branches a number of ft above the floor of the water on the far aspect. Behind my car, sweet wrappers and a single water shoe could be seen tucked within the undercut and uncovered root system of the riverbank timber. This water isn’t as excessive because it has been. There’s an opportunity we will make it if we cross now.

It’s simple to imagine slow-moving water is protected to cross, however we will solely see the floor and never the way it’s flowing beneath. Years as a kayaking/canoeing teacher and information taught me the laminar stream discovered underneath the floor of the water can transfer a lot sooner and poses a a lot larger threat. This swift water is commonly the rationale why even skilled swimmers drown in rivers that look to be barely shifting. Who is aware of how the present will have an effect on the Jeep because it crosses? All that’s left is to say a prayer, hope my earlier cursing isn’t held in opposition to me by the person upstairs, and ship my rig into the water at a gradual tempo.

The tires lurch ahead, and the water gurgles because it rises in opposition to the undercarriage of the car. I don’t let up on the gasoline and keep away from spinning my wheels. Momentum is essential. I really feel the present pushing my car laterally, and I watch the highway on the far aspect of the river seem to maneuver throughout my dashboard. Regular, regular, maintain the wheels straight. Don’t struggle the steering wheel. Don’t be stunned by the water coming into the cab. Preserve going, come on, come on, extra gasoline … come on, gasoline, gasoline, gasoline! I stare over at my shivering daughter solely lengthy sufficient to verify she continues to be with me, and my look is interrupted by the sensation of the entrance wheels grabbing the far riverbank and the sound of water draining out of my bumper, wheel wells, and thru the seams within the doorways. Thanks, God. After I’m away from the river, I take away the tarp from the entrance finish to permit airflow to the radiator and stow it in case I would like it once more additional down the highway. It isn’t lengthy earlier than we make it to a roadblock manned by a freeway patrolman who helps my daughter dry off, wraps an emergency blanket round her, and lets her sit in his cruiser to heat up.

Shifting ahead, a part of my EDC will likely be a set of digital instruments that go hand-in-hand. A Garmin InReach and Garmin Foretrex 601 will permit me to know my actual location and relay it from one gadget via one other to 2 of my most trusted mates. This journey was not with out threat, and since there will likely be extra, these things will likely be carried with out fail each day. I can even be rather more diligent about checking climate forecasts sooner or later and can select campsites with flooding potential in thoughts. I can’t depend on luck or prayer like I did this time. If I make the identical errors once more, disgrace on me.

Overlanding Professional Rick Stowe’s Method

I’ve confronted a state of affairs much like this one. It’s a horrible feeling gazing a water crossing that you simply’re not 100-percent certain you can also make it via, particularly when it’s your solely manner out of the world. And whereas fortunately I wasn’t behind the wheel, I’ve seen a well-equipped off-road rig rendered inoperable by 3 ft of comparatively calm flowing water. It’s simple to romanticize crossing rivers with a wake breaking behind the truck, however in actuality, combustion engines and electronics don’t mesh nicely with submersion.

That being mentioned, simply since you don’t count on excessive water throughout your backcountry journeys doesn’t imply you gained’t encounter it. Earlier than I even think about modifications and extra tools, I’d check out the manufacturing unit options and functionality of the rig. Personally, I favor at the very least a rear locker, near 10 inches of floor clearance, 2 ft of fording depth, all-terrain tires, and a few underbody safety for low-hanging elements.

I’m additionally a giant proponent of receiving high quality coaching from a good supply. I need to know what a rig is able to earlier than it’s in a dire state of affairs. The Overland Expo occasion sequence features a nice crew of off-road trainers, and so they can present you ways your car stacks up in opposition to the forms of obstacles you’re most probably to come across within the backcountry. Past coaching behind the wheel, you too can be taught the ins and outs of winching, trailside repairs, and different conditions that may shortly change into harmful when dealt with incorrectly.

On this state of affairs, I’d think about a Jeep Wrangler with first rate tires loads able to tackling trails with some mud and flowing water lower than a foot deep. Given the ankle-deep water in camp, I wouldn’t count on to come across greater than 2 ft of water on the crossings at this level. After all, that is all hypothesis, and also you by no means know if you’ll encounter the sudden, however that’s why we put together for the worst.

A lot of the gear that I’d think about vital for the potential of flooded trails and water crossings isn’t particular to that state of affairs, however regardless, it’d be useful. We dwell in a day and age when satellite tv for pc communication, GMRS, and HAM radio capabilities can all match in your sprint in small, simply accessible gadgets. With these instruments, or a mix thereof, not solely can I keep in communication with household again residence to maintain them up to date about my location and adjustments to my plans, however I also can attain out to hunt details about climate and highway situations. On this state of affairs, I may be tempted to go away the tenting space, and through the use of NOAA climate radio, I may resolve which route to journey to keep away from backtracking or areas with extra extreme flooding. It’s additionally price noting that having your entire comms hardwired to your rig is a foul name. I prefer to maintain at the very least one handheld radio and a satellite tv for pc communication gadget that I can seize and go if I’m away from the truck.

Photo of a customized overlanding SUV driving through a water crossing.

Above: Including a snorkel to the consumption and protecting the entrance finish with waterproof materials can lower the chance of the engine sucking up water throughout a tough water crossing. (Photograph courtesy of ARB)

Along with communication tools, main and secondary navigation instruments are vital. The overwhelming majority of my route planning is finished with the onX maps smartphone app. It permits me to save lots of maps offline and assessment path pictures, issue scores, closure dates, and descriptions of common tracks. I additionally maintain a variety of Delorme Gazetteer paper maps and a few region-specific 4×4-focused maps in my truck always. You may’t predict when a telephone or pill will likely be broken or misplaced, so secondary navigation instruments are required equipment.

Restoration tools and instruments are additionally crucial for venturing into the backcountry by way of 4×4, particularly when touring and not using a companion car. I all the time have traction platforms saved in an simply accessible location. They’re a fantastic first step in restoration conditions which can be each quick and protected. Full-sized hand instruments — on the naked minimal, a sturdy shovel and a noticed — are a should. Chain saws or massive folding saws each work. The choice comes all the way down to obtainable storage and how briskly you need to clear fallen timber. The ultimate element of the trio, a correctly rated winch, good points important functionality if you add extension straps, snatch blocks, and tree savers. A winch can be a device that requires some coaching to function safely and successfully.

If I’ve to ditch my truck as a result of it’s inoperable or hopelessly caught, I all the time maintain a go-bag full of shelter, water, and meals as the highest priorities. Going overboard with a go-bag is tempting, however preserving it small and accessible means I’m much less more likely to go away it at residence. An emergency bivy bag, a high quality poncho, a water filter, some shelf-stable meals, and the chopping, fireplace beginning, and illumination instruments I carry each day will get me via the evening.

Clearly, I can’t talk about water crossings in a 4×4 with out mentioning a snorkel, nevertheless it’s vital to keep in mind that this modification doesn’t essentially provide you with magical river-fording powers. There are nonetheless loads of electronics and different components that may fail because of submersion. Particularly, prolonged differential breathers will eradicate a possible failure.

There’s a little bit of an artwork and loads of science to driving even a well-built overland rig via water crossings over 18 inches. Ideally, you need to enter the water and keep a pace that’ll push the bow wake forward of your entrance bumper. Should you go in too quick or too gradual, the water can enter the engine compartment. It’s truthfully one thing it’s important to get a really feel for.

In all actuality, this Gulf Coast rainstorm state of affairs has a number of shifting components that might enormously have an effect on how I might react. The placement comes with its personal distinctive challenges. For one, water crossings the place the underside is sand versus bedrock or gravel could be notably tough as a result of they’re extra vulnerable to washouts and shifting depths. That’s why I’m definitely not against strolling a water crossing earlier than I try it. With simply my daughter as a companion, I’d rig up a security line to pivot me again to shore simply in case I encountered robust currents. I’d additionally minimize an extended sapling or department to check the underside as I made my manner throughout every crossing. The one upside to water crossings in areas with much less drastic elevation adjustments is that they’re much less more likely to rise into flash floods because of draining areas distant. That’s a chance close to massive mountains or canyon lands.

Photo of a flooded SUV with the front end sunk into the water.

Ideally, earlier than I ever acquired into this case, I’d rethink the low-lying flood-prone areas with the wet forecast in thoughts. Clearly, I don’t need to disappoint my daughter; high quality time isn’t all the time simple to carve out, however on the similar time, rerouting a few hours may save us a number of hassle. Plus, I may use it as a possibility to permit her to participate within the planning course of as we researched a brand new space to camp for the evening. That is precisely the kind of state of affairs the place it pays off to be versatile and to have some factors of curiosity and waypoints in thoughts for future journeys.

The most important issue on this state of affairs is whether or not we keep or go. After waking as much as standing water within the tent and looking for shelter within the Jeep, I might use my NOAA Climate Radio, satellite tv for pc comms, and even HAM to assemble as a lot information as I may to decide. Driving out of the world to get again to a highway may imply encountering an impassable impediment, whether or not that be an unsafe water crossing or downed timber. I’ve seen too many conditions the place you spend time chopping a tree blocking the path simply to discover a tangled mess of timber 1 / 4 mile away. Until the anticipated rainfall was going to supply important flooding, I’d be tempted to attend it out, sleeping behind the Jeep. That’d maintain us dry and out of the water except it was going to rise over 3 ft. For the reason that state of affairs doesn’t happen proper on the coast, storm surge isn’t a difficulty, and if greater than 36 inches of rain is forecasted, I’d undoubtedly change the plan.

Heading to the excessive floor would even be an possibility, however except it was shut and undoubtedly drivable, I’d maintain an open thoughts about setting out on foot. With the tools within the go-bag, the evening could be satisfactory, and the temperatures wouldn’t essentially be harmful.

Clearly, having an 8-year-old as your solely journey companion takes some particular consideration. The most important being that this complete state of affairs will likely be lots simpler if she’s calm and cozy all through the ordeal. Personally, I feel a number of that depends upon exposing youngsters to antagonistic conditions at a younger age with correct preparations and encouragement. Briefly, train them to take care of “the suck.” Children are malleable, and their consolation vary isn’t as slim as some may assume. Ensuring my daughter knew methods to use the radio so I may keep in contact whereas scouting crossings or pulling the winch line is on the prime of the listing. Even when we needed to head out on foot, her poncho and bivy would maintain her heat and dry, and so long as that wasn’t the primary time she had been out in stormy situations, she could be tremendous.

Identical to an off-camber path, getting a truck high-centered, or a complete host of different conditions you’ll be able to encounter overlanding, excessive water could be nerve-wracking. On the finish of the day, we discover to push ourselves, and technical driving is simply one other ability set so as to add to your psychological toolbox. So long as you’re sincere in regards to the situations, your capability, and your rig, you’ll in all probability be OK, however that’s nonetheless no assure. The place’s the enjoyable in that?


Lately, our autos are safer and extra technologically superior than ever earlier than, and that tends to make us really feel insulated from hazard behind the wheel. However hazard is ever-present, particularly as soon as inclement climate and lowered visibility are added to the combination. Even on paved roads, it’s not unusual to see motorists stranded after shedding management within the rain or trying to drive via flooded areas. In an off-road setting, heavy rain can shortly flip clean dust roads into slippery mud, and swell trickling creeks into impassable rivers. And if you happen to get caught in a distant location, tow vans and conventional roadside help providers gained’t have the opportunity that will help you, assuming you might have sufficient cell sign to achieve them in any respect.

As all the time, preparation is essential. Plan your route rigorously and use providers akin to onX maps that present current pictures and user-submitted updates concerning path issue. If you’re heading out on a path for the primary time, think about bringing an skilled good friend with a second car — if you happen to get caught, they could have the ability to pull you out or go discover assist. Test climate continuously and don’t hesitate to show again if situations deteriorate. Should you’re critical about off-roading and overlanding, put money into high quality instruments, restoration tools, and off-grid communications gear. Above all, don’t fall into the lure of overestimating your driving prowess or your car’s capabilities. That’s a straightforward solution to find yourself in serious trouble — actually.

Meet Our Panel

Photo of survival expert Kevin Estela.Kevin Estela

Kevin Estela is the director of coaching for Fieldcraft Survival in Aberdeen, North Carolina. He’s the best-selling creator of 101 Abilities You Have to Survive within the Woods and an achieved journal author. He’s the host of the Fieldcraft Survival Podcast and a daily visitor on others. Estela has been knowledgeable bushcraft and survival teacher since 2007 and has examined his expertise in a variety of environments. Extremely wanted for product testing, designs, and suggestions, he’s considered a subject skilled and authority in outside expertise who conducts common programs across the nation. You may comply with him on Instagram at @estelawilded

Portrait photo of author and overlanding expert, Rick Stowe.Rick Stowe

Rick Stowe, affiliate editor for Overland Expo, is a fan of exploration regardless if it’s by foot, 4×4, or bike. Regardless that most of his skilled work is predicated round lifted vans and rooftop tents, he nonetheless appreciates the chance to move out with a pack, a tarp, a cook dinner equipment, and a knife to observe primitive expertise. If there’s a strong trout stream close by, even higher. He believes that when every part goes flawed, probably the most helpful factor you’ll be able to carry is a strong data base and sensible expertise. Bear in mind, expertise weigh nothing, and an emergency is a horrible time to get your gear soiled for the very first time.

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