5 Tips for Navigating Flooded Midwest Roads

Flood waters have forced the closure of thousands of miles of roadways across the Midwest in the last week.

Residents are struggling to access grocery stores and other essentials. Schools and businesses are closed while mail deliveries have been suspended in many areas. Farmers and ag businesses are having a hard time transporting livestock, feed, and inputs. Meanwhile, other support and volunteers are pouring into the region from around the country. Donations of drinking water, hay, and fencing supplies are having trouble reaching flood victims.

Here are 5 tips for navigating the flooded Midwest roads if you must.

1. Check 511

The state DOT map of state highway closures and travel advisories is updated around the clock. You can also dial 511 to hear automated recordings of state road conditions in your area. Many states also offer an app for your smartphone or tablet. State 511 maps are linked below:

2. Plan a Detour

Most DOT websites will also help you plan ahead and determine the best detour. If a map shows the road is closed, don’t try go through anyway. Planning an alternate route is safer and will save you time in the long run.

3. Don’t Drive Around Barricades

“Don’t drive around barricades,” urges Nebraska DOT spokesperson Jeni Campana. “That includes dry roads.”

The roads may appear passable, but they are closed for your safety.

“We had somebody drive around the barricade yesterday on a dry road,” explains Campana. “The road was completely destroyed, and they disabled their vehicle. Some people need to be reminded: Please, please, please – if the road is closed, don’t drive on it.”

4. Verify Local Road Conditions

State 511 resources only track road conditions on the state highway system.

“I would urge people to be cautious when they start trying to go into flood damaged areas on the local system, especially where they have flood-damaged roads. I’m seeing some of the photos of those roads, and there are very deep ruts,” Campana says.

She recommends contacting local emergency managers in the area you plan to travel to get the most up-to-date local road conditions. (In Nebraska that information is listed on this website.)

5. Don't Drive Through Flowing Water

Due to so many flooded roads, some local and rural routes may not be blocked off. Look out for dips in the road, bridges, or low areas that may have unexpected water.

Do not drive through flowing water. If you encounter water, turn around. Continuing to drive may put you or others in danger.

If your car stalls or floodwaters rise around your car, but the water is not moving, abandon the car and move to safer, higher ground. However, do not leave the car and enter moving water. Just 6 inches of moving water can knock someone down. Just 6 feet of water will carry away most automobiles. Nearly half of all flash-flood fatalities are automobile related.

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