July 17, 2018
On June 9, 1972 I sat on my parents’ back porch at Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota and watched a strange sight. Thunderstorms over the distant Black Hills were exploding in size and growing very dark and foreboding…but they were behaving very oddly. Normally thunderstorms that formed over the Hills would drift eastward into the Badlands, but these storms just circled back into the Black Hills, like a giant revolving carousel. This odd weather pattern produced a historic overnight flood that killed 238 people, most of them residents of Rapid City who were asleep and unaware of the wall of water that blasted through the city near midnight.
Flash floods and hurricane-induced storm surges are particularly deadly and should never be underestimated. Often occurring at night, floods produce water that rapidly rises and can overtake homes and cars in minutes, or even seconds. If you’re asleep and the waters are rising, you may never know it until your home is already surrounded by a rushing, inescapable torrent. In your car, driving onto a flooded roadway can put your life in immediate jeopardy; if the roadway is completely obscured by water, how do you know the pavement is still there? Bridges and culverts get swept away, and you can be, too.