North Texans know the dangers of severe weather, but few know that the No. 1 killer is flash flooding.
Flash flooding kills more Texans than tornadoes or lightning. In 2010, 14 of the 27 weather-related deaths in Texas were from flooding. Almost all of them involved someone who was swept away in a car.
James “Cal” Wright, of Alvarado, was one of them.
On Sept. 8, 2010, the longtime steel worker left home on a rainy day to cash in a winning lottery ticket. Water was covering County Road 607 not far from his home.
His pickup was swept up in the currents.
"I slid off the road out here in the salt water creek in Alvarado,” he said in a dramatic 911 call. “I'm fixing to be drowned. ... Water is coming inside my truck.”
Within minutes, the water was above his feet, and it continued to rise.
“I’m crawling out,” he said. “I have to.”
When firefighters arrived, his pickup was under water, and he was nowhere to be seen.
But rescuers could hear him apparently clinging to a tree.
"When our first unit got here, they could hear him hollering, 'I'm slipping, I'm slipping,'” said Alvarado Fire Chief Richard Van Winkle. “And then, that's the last we heard."
Rescuers found his body about 50 yards away.
"There's not a day goes by that I don't think about him,” said his brother, Mike Wright.
Firefighters train for such scenarios.
They offer the following suggestions for drivers who come across a flash flood:
- Don’t drive into water, no matter how shallow it might seem. "’Turn around, don't drown’ is as good a saying as there is,” Van Winkle said. “If you see high water, don't cross it."
- If you do find yourself trapped, stay in your car as long as possible.
- Roll down your car windows as soon as possible. Keeping them up won’t stop water from coming in. Rolling them down will allow you to escape if your electrical system fails.
- If it’s safe, get on the roof.
- Always know where you are. Cal Wright couldn't remember the name of the road he was on, and it took dispatchers nearly a minute to figure it out.
"Don't push your luck,” Mike Wright said. "I hope at least one person will learn something from it. When you come to any danger like that, be safe. Turn around and go the other way."