It's an optical illusion: what looks like a shallow pool of water could be deep enough to be dangerous. When that water is on roadways, trying to gauge how deep it is may not be worth the risk.
With storms expected this week, Virginia Department of Transportation officials are warning people not to test their luck.
VDOT spokesperson Lou Hatter said when high water is in our region, it's a very dynamic situation. Crews patrol the roads during storms with signs and barrels ready to barricade roads when they see flooding. But it's common for people to ignore blockades, thinking road conditions aren't as bad as they seem. Hatter warns that's dangerous -- it only takes six to 12 inches of moving water to float a car off of a roadway.
"If they can't actually see the road under the water, the road may not be there. The flood waters may have washed the road away," he said. "It doesn't happen often but it has happened."
The least that could happen is your car gets stalled or you get through the high water with a little scare. The worst case scenario, Hatter said, is that your car could get swept away into flood water, creating a situation where you could get injured or drown, and rescue crews would have to put themselves in danger to rescue you.
"For the sake of saving a few minutes, is it really worth it? It's an equation that doesn't make much sense when you really think about the possible consequences," Hatter said.
When flood water recedes, VDOT crews remove the barricades, but they also have to check to make sure there is no significant damage left behind.
"We do have damage from those flood waters, particularly on some of those low lying structures that are designed so that when the water rises it flows over the top of those structures," Hatter said.
Putting road signs up and taking them down, all in a matter of hours, is a difficult task. In the event of a flooded roadway, VDOT crews put signs up close to the location where the road is actually closed. That may cause frustration for people who have already driven down a particular road for miles, only to discover it's blocked off due to flooding. But Hatter said it's a logistical challenge. If crews put the signs up six or eight miles before the high water it could confuse people.
"We don't really have enough signage possibility to say where the closure is, so we may be confusing people who think that the road may be closed a mile or so down the road when it's actually six or eight miles down," he said.
Also, there could be private entrances down the road that can be accessed.
"People who may live (near the flooded area) may be able to get to their house but can't get all the way through to the next intersection," he said.
There is a more efficient way to find out what roads are closed due to high water. VDOT has an information system called 511 that's updated in real time. Crews call in by cell phone to report the status of road closures to the traffic operations center, and the information is adjusted immediately so people know what's happening before they head out the door. To access the VDOT 511 information center, call 511 or click here.
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