Drivers on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus have a new reminder to help keep them safe during periods of heavy rain.

“Turn Around Don’t Drown” road signs have been installed on Duck Pond Drive and Smithfield Road as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service flood-safety program. The program encourages awareness and preparedness to prevent flood-related deaths.

The Duck Pond Drive and Smithfield Road locations are historically subject to flooding, and the “Turn Around Don’t Drown” messages remind travelers to take caution even before roadways are closed by emergency services.

“We cross these roads thousands of times in our lifetimes, so it is easy to forget that it only takes a few inches of water to push most vehicles off the road,” said Phil Hysell, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Blacksburg.

September 2015 campus flooding
National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Phil Hysell and Virginia Tech Emergency Management Director Michael Mulhare stand in front of the newly installed "Turn Around Don't Drown" sign on Duck Pond Drive.

The New River Valley, and the Town of Blacksburg specifically, is vulnerable to riverine floods. Flooding is most likely to occur in low-lying areas as a result of heavy rains of a localized storm, a tropical storm, or a combination of rain and snowmelt. Record setting floods occurred in 1940, 1972, 1978, 1985, and 1991. The 1991 flood caused $4.5 million in damage on the Blacksburg campus, including major damage to the Donaldson Brown Center.

“The historic pattern of flooding on campus makes it particularly important to warn campus visitors and residents of possible hazards,” said Michael Mulhare, the director of Virginia Tech's Office of Emergency Management. “The new road signs alert drivers to possible dangers in the area, even if they have little or no experience with flooding conditions.”

Each year in the United States, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other thunderstorm-related hazard. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports over half of all flood-related drowning in the nation occurs when a vehicle is driven into hazardous floodwater.

“Our teams are trained to rescue drivers trapped in swiftly moving flood water, but our goal is to keep them out of those dangerous situations whenever possible,” said Curtis Cook, senior project coordinator for Virginia Tech Emergency Management and training coordinator for the New River Valley Swift Water Rescue Association. “Drivers who read the signs and take warning are less likely to go around flooding barricades or drive into water-covered roadways.”

More information on how to respond before, during, and after a flooding incident is available online.

Written by Victoria Hill, public relations specialist for Virginia Tech Emergency Management

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