If Flood Gage Under Water…

or Why Amarillo’ Police Department has a Dive Team.

By all common sense, Amarillo should need a police high-water rescue team about as much as does, oh, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. However, almost from the beginnings of highways and paved roads, the city had an underpass problem. We have a number of rather steep, deep underpasses because the railroad tracks came first, and then the roads were dug out from under them when traffic became too heavy. And these underpasses catch water.

Yes, there are drains to remove the water, but as pavement covered more and more of the area, runoff began flowing faster and faster so that it filled the underpasses and low spots before the drainage system could remove said water. Thus were born flood gauges on the underpass pillars. They are much like the flood gauges on the river in Palo Duro Canyon. If the water has reached 3 or 4, you don’t want to go in there. If the sign is under water, you really need to go by a different route.

However, this does not stop people who firmly believe that they can make it, and that two feet of water is not impassable and will not float their car.


Not smart, but he’s not a small plastic car, either.
Creative Commons use from: http://kfda.images.worldnow.com/images/11586906_G.jpg

OK, so the truck can make it…

Now imagine what the underpasses look like… The road is five lanes wide. Creative Commons use: https://abc7amarillo.com/news/local/amarillo-police-urge-residents-to-stay-inside-as-roads-flood

I-40 and Soncy. I-40 and Paramount. I-40 and Washington. Buchanan Street at the railroad tracks. The I-27 underpass below 32nd and 34th. They make the national news on occasion because of high water.  When a great deal of rain falls quickly on a flat, paved place, it mounds up, then flows away. People seem to forget this, and to believe that they won’t be the ones to drown their engines. And then the  police have to pull people out of the water, especially around downtown or in southwest Amarillo, because the flood gauge doesn’t really mean what it seems to mean. Or so a few optimists believe.

15 thoughts on “If Flood Gage Under Water…

  1. You mention a dive team, but then you talk about a high water rescue team – you do know they are two different teams with different functions, right?

  2. It looks like the drivers of Amarillo are in desperate need of relief.

    I’ve only passed through or stopped in Amarillo on dry days, for which I am now grateful, because the only topographic relief I can recall were the overpasses and underpasses.

  3. You’d think road flooding wouldn’t be so much of a problem on the higher elevations of the coast with just a passing rainstorm… but there are places in Pensacola where there’s just such a wide flat area, a few minutes of torrential rain will make a street too risky to drive. The thing to do is pull off and wait a half hour.

    …Almost no one does. *Headdesk*

  4. Phoenix area, also. Saw lots of signs to stop *here* if a flash flood warning was announced, or if it begins to rain.

    Our choral director asked his department there to find pictures of rushing water. They gave him images of Katrina. No one was smart enough to remember what happens annually, in monsoon season. Go out to any major street or send a drone over the Gila RIver.

  5. “By all common sense, Amarillo should need a police high-water rescue team about as much as does, oh, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.”

    I have been in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh, Al Kharj, and various other locations, when it rains. Same problem as Texas. Burning hot for several months, then fall hits and all the rain (yes really) comes at once. Aside from not being able to handle “peak water”, the drains are also plugged with trash, dead animals, and dirt, and the underground pipes maybe collapsed as well. So all the water in in the street, and there is a single file line of little white pickups and Suburbans driving down the very middle, where the street is crowned and the water is shallowest — and still maybe two feet deep.

    Now outside of town, in the open desert, things are different. Grass actually grows. You look from the highway, at a slant, and the desert looks green! When you walk out into the desert, you realize that the blades of grass are a foot and a half a part, but by golly there are grass and flowers and all kinds of other plants growing furiously while the heat is down and the water is available. After eight months of beige it was quite a shock.

    I regularly went horseback riding in the desert in Saudi, and it was a lot of fun. Usually started at about 4 or 5 a.m. so as to be finished before the Sun could roast us. When winter came, much like Texas winter, it was often quite pleasant.

    But the horses were weirded out by the rain. As we got saddled up we normally formed up in the asphalt parking lot. You know how asphalt is never quite completely flat, so that when it rains there are lots of 1/4″ puddles everywhere? The horses were TERRIFIED of these. They would not walk into or across them to save their necks. There was a lot of dancing around, snorting and blowing, and backing up — right into some more of those scary puddles, which triggered some bucking too. This was a lot of fun on wet slick asphalt.

    Once we got out in the desert they calmed down, wet sand was not so bad. Until we came to a stream. Rivulet really. There was a little six-inch wide flow of water coming out of a nearby rock formation, running in a little erosion ditch across our path. Again, it petrified the horses. The would not simply step across it — oh no. Rodeo time! Snorting, spinning, bucking, the works. One rider got tossed and his mount ran full tilt the mile back to the stable. The rest of us finally got our horses across, but only by making a jump worthy of a Three Day Event.

  6. Think of it as Darwinism in action. Don’t drive into water of unknown depth, don’t try to pat the lions, don’t try to go swimming with the sharks . . .

    And yes, it’s amazing how lacking in basic sense some people can be. I lived in Phoenix for a few years – as Psychokitteh notes, people there don’t know how to cope with rain. Half treat if as if they were driving on glare ice (annoying, but unlikely to harm themselves or others) and the other half seem to think the way to deal with it is to go *faster*, especially through pools of water. Rather like Californians from the lowland-and-coastal regions in the snow.

  7. The northwest side of Chicago had a viaduct that would flood regularly. In the ’60s, you could count on a few cases per year. And yes, VW beetles could float. It was fun seeing TV footage of one being towed to dry land at that viaduct.

    Klamath Falls has a similar one, and after a good storm, it can catch the unwary. Pickups don’t float.

  8. Tucson has underpasses into downtown areas. One from the north (maybe 4th street) fills up, and is referred to as “Lake Elmira” after the apocryphal story of the first schoolgirl to ever swim across it. From the east, well, I recall a front-page picture of a car hood-deep in the water, and markings up to 6′ on the supporting pylons.
    A number of roads are paved thru the gullies with a sign saying “DO NOT DRIVE THRU WHEN FLOODED.”
    The first night I was there, 5 people drowned, The second night, two drowned, and another was electrocuted (downed power line in the water). I recall Davis-Monthan AFB once being closed about noon due to rain.

  9. Yep, idjits think ‘they’ know more than those that put those signs there… And you have to ‘know’ the sign is there if it’s underwater! 😀 There was one underpass in TXK that routinely flooded to 3-4 feet in a good hard rain. EVERY time it did, idjits swamped their cars, or floated into the pilings of the railroad track it went under… Which of course stopped the trains until it could be inspected… And yes, there was a flood gauge, and multiple warning signs…

  10. Toledo. Lots of railroads, lots of low ground, lots of underpasses that are the ONLY way to travel from one neighborhood to another. And lots of rain, in all seasons, courtesy of Lake Erie’s lake effect.

    I think the difference is that Toledoans believe in high water, because it happens so much.

    Anyway, I remember one scary night when it was raining fairly hard, and my Toledo friends kept driving from one underpass to another, trying to find one that was usable. I think we ended up driving miles out of our way, just to find a road that stayed on a ridge and wasn’t crossed by overhead traintracks. (Which would be a normal road, in most towns.)

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