'We're prepared for the worst': South Floridians weather 'rare' flash flood emergency

Devoun Cetoute and Alex Harris, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

MIAMI — Life-threatening rainfall pummeling South Florida that’s closed I-95 and caused major delays at the region’s two largest airports Wednesday was considered a flash flood emergency — an “exceedingly rare” circumstance classified by forecasters when catastrophic damage is imminent.

Around 3:40 p.m., the National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for portions of southern Broward County and northern Miami-Dade County. The emergency was in effect until 8:00 pm.

Cities under the emergency advisory were: Miami Gardens, North Miami Beach, Pembroke Pines, Hollywood, Miramar and Dania Beach. Other urban city centers in both counties were forecast to see the greatest threat of flash flooding.

Forecasters said they’ve received “nonstop” reports of flash flooding. At one point, the NWS had six flash flood warnings in effect throughout the region.

Residents were told not to drive in the emergency area and to seek higher ground until flood waters receded.

So far this week, parts of South Florida have seen up to at least 10 inches of rain.

What is a flash flood emergency?

A flash flood emergency is the most severe weather category for flooding. An emergency is only issued in exceedingly rare situations when extremely heavy rain is leading to a severe threat to life and catastrophic damage, the weather service said.

Luke Culver, a meteorologist at NWS Miami, said the emergency “is really for extremely rare situations where there are dangers to life and property.“

“When we go to an emergency, we have people getting rescued from vehicles and particularly dangerous and life-threatening situations,” he said.

John Morales, a consulting meteorologist, said on X that the first flash flood emergency issued by National Weather Service Miami was for a record-breaking rainstorm that the Fort Lauderdale area in April 2023.

At the time, 31 inches of rain more than three days and 26 inches in one day transformed the Fort Lauderdale airport into a waterway.

North of the airport, in the Edgewood area that had just received bigger pipes as part of a project to better deal with flooding, water levels rose to near waist-deep levels, pushing into homes.

‘We’re prepared for the worst’

The Broward Sheriff’s Office has been “inundated” with non-emergency calls regarding the inclement weather, as some reporting disabled cars, Sheriff Gregory Tony said on X.

He continued to urge residents to only use 911 for “true emergencies,” such as rescues. As of Wednesday night, the Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue had already completed more than a dozen of them.

Battalion Chief Michael B. Kane told the Miami Herald that calls for rescues from flood waters began pouring in around 11:30 a.m. By the early evening, about 50 people had been saved from flooded cars.

No injuries or structural damage have been reported.

“I think we hit the peak at about 2 p.m., but that remains to be seen,” Kane said. “We’ve been able to keep up with the high volume of requests for victim removals from the high water.”

Kane noted authorities also have been called for downed power lines and sparking outlets inside homes and businesses. He felt confident that residents and first responders alike were more prepared for this flood than they were last April when Fort Lauderdale saw a record-breaking amount of rain.

”I think we learned a lot of lessons last April,” he said. “We’re prepared for the worst and preparing for the best, as they say.”


South Florida swamped with weather warnings

The National Weather Service has issued a series of severe weather watches and warnings Wednesday that will stay in effect into the night.

Four flash flood warnings were in effect until 8 p.m. for different areas of Miami-Dade and Broward. A warning indicates flash flooding is happening or will happen soon.

Cities in central and southern Broward, as well as northern Miami-Dade, were under warnings. The areas include Miami, Hialeah, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Davie and Pompano Beach.

Forecasters reported several inches of rain in the aforementioned areas have already fallen, with more coming. North Miami-Dade cities received between 3 to 7 inches of rainfall, with an additional 2 to 6 inches possible.

A severe thunderstorm warning was also in effect for southern Miami-Dade until 6:30 p.m. The storm was moving east at 20 mph with 60 mph wind gusts. Forecasters said damage to roofs, siding and trees should be expected.

Cities listed in the warning: Homestead, Florida City, Goulds, Kendall and Richmond Heights.

A general flood watch will remain in effect for Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties through Friday evening. A watch means weather conditions are favorable for flash flooding, and plans should be made just in case.

Miami-Dade, Broward combat dangerous flooding

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday night declared a state of emergency for Broward and Miami-Dade as about 10 to 15 inches of rainfall closed major interstates, roadways, airports and schools, according to the order.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava also issued a local state of emergency.

In an earlier statement, she assured county workers were hard at work Wednesday protecting “critical infrastructure” as the region bears the brunt of excessive rainfall and subsequent flooding.

“Miami-Dade County staff has been working proactively to prepare our community since before the rain started, and we are working to protect our residents and businesses,” she said. “We ask residents and visitors to stay safe, stay inside, avoid flooded areas and remain vigilant for possible hazards.”

The Water and Sewer Department installed temporary dams around pump stations in vulnerable areas, drained the wastewater system and prepared vacuum trucks.

Simultaneously, the county’s Transportation and Public Works employees inspected over a dozen stormwater pumps and removed debris.

The Cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood issued a state of emergency to better coordinate resources and ensure the safety of their residents. Community centers and other government buildings were closed.


(Miami Herald reporter David J. Neal contributed to this report.)


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