It wasn't a normal day for water rescues in Oklahoma City.
Firefighter Josh Pearcy — assigned to the dive and water rescue team — spent June 14, 2010, in a boat that helped save 18 people, some from their homes in northeast Oklahoma City, others from trees and the tops of partially submerged vehicles.
“We've had a few of those randomly — one here, a couple there — but in one day, to do that many is astronomical for swift water rescues,” Pearcy said.
The spring rainy season is not the only time of year in Oklahoma flash floods are a risk, Pearcy said. But as spring nears, the boats and personal watercraft stand ready.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its outlook for nationwide spring flooding Thursday. The outlook for flooding is the lowest it has been in the past four years, according to a news release on the NOAA website.
No areas of the country face high risk of major spring flooding due to a limited winter snowfall, according to NOAA's annual spring outlook, which forecasts the potential for flooding from April to June.
In Oklahoma, there is a potential for heavy rain late Sunday through Tuesday, said Rick Smith, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman.
Drought doesn't matter
Despite months of drought conditions, floods are still possible, Smith said.
Gary McManus, of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey in Norman, said about half of Oklahoma remains in a drought. Yet, the most dangerous floods in Oklahoma are flash floods that can happen whether Oklahoma is in a period of heavy rain or drought.
“When you get the flash flooding with a lot of precipitation in a short period of time, that is when you get the loss of life,” McManus said.
“Floods are very, very localized. We shouldn't let our guard down, even in a drought,” Smith said.
No flooding fatalities were reported in Oklahoma in 2011.
Ready for rescue
Heavy rains can come at any time of year in Oklahoma City, fire Lt. Dane Yaw said. Training for water rescues is a year-round job. Oklahoma City has six to eight firefighters assigned to the dive team at Fire Station 8 in the Stockyards. Two rescue boats are ready to be launched.
Yaw said the most frequent call involves people who have driven into high water.
On the morning of June 14, 2010, firefighters waded to numerous cars stranded in high water and rescued hundreds of people.
Yaw said people should stay in the car, if possible, instead of trying to swim in swift water. If the car is going under, roll down the windows, take a deep breath and swim to the surface.
Divers train quarterly and check their equipment every day.
“We make sure everything is operational because you don't know,” Yaw said. “You absolutely don't know. It could come in the middle of the winter time.”
One sure way to survive a flood, Yaw said, is to not drive into high water.
“Turn around and don't drown.”