Yesterday we were at the top of a waterfall and had the river flash flood on us, making the drop hideously over powered and leaving Adrian and me trapped on an island in the middle of the river.

It was not our first time dealing with a flash flood and fortunately, Adrian spotted one of the early warning signs and we were able to scramble, pull our kayaks to higher ground and watch the river jump two feet higher in a matter of minutes.

Flash floods are frequent in some countries, in others not so much, but with climate change flooding is becoming an issue in new places, especially flash flooding. Here’s how to spot a flash flood coming.

Dark skies and rain

Sounds obvious but if you are on a river, especially in countries notorious for heavy rainfall like Ecuador or Indonesia, and you see the sky getting dark it is probably time to take a break. Get to high ground and watch what happens, or save it for another day. It can be hard at times to quell the ‘go fever’ involved with being on good whitewater with your friends but it is important to make good decisions and call it if you have to.

Debris coming down the river

Riverbanks are loaded with debris, whether naturally occurring or discarded by humans. Seeing objects coming down the river can be one of the first warning signs. In our case, I was about to walk to the top of the island, put in and send the waterfall when Adrian grabbed me and pointed to a flip flop coming down the river. Not completely uncommon in countries like Indonesia but when it was followed by more of its friends, logs, plastic bottles and rubbish, we knew what was coming.

Changing water colour

The rain will sweep all sorts of stuff into the river including mud and dirt from road pollution. If you see the water changing colour you can be sure the river is rising, I can’t think of a single example in the world where a higher river level doesn’t result in darker and cloudier water.


In some countries, they will sound an alarm to announce that they are opening the dam gates. Important to remember a flash flood can be natural or man-made.

Dealing with a flash flood

The only real way to deal with a flash flood is to get to higher ground, quickly. Make sure everyone in the group aware of what’s going on and you’re working as a team to solve problems.

One thing I learned in our recent experience is not to leave your kayak too far away from you. I left mine at the top of the island where I wanted to put in to send the drop and it took me a solid thirty seconds of scrambling to get back to it, followed by a minute or so to drag it to higher ground. Doesn’t sound like much but in a flash flood that’s a large chunk of time, especially if the kayak is your main way off of the island. The gap between the island and the top of the drop was ankle deep when I first arrived when I went back to see if the drop was still runnable it was past my waist.

Hope you are all making the most of the recent storms, stay safe out there – Bren