'Turn around, don’t drown': Flood fatalities in US hit 5-year high in 2021

Most flood-related deaths last year happened in Tennessee, New Jersey

Deaths related to flooding hit a five-year-high in 2021, marking the third-highest year for flood fatalities since 2010.

According to data from the National Weather Service, 145 people died because of flooding last year. That is up 145% from the 59 flood-related deaths reported in 2020.

Tennessee had the most flood fatalities in 2021 at 29. The state experienced record-setting rainfall in August, when just over 20 inches of rain fell in McEwen, Tennessee, in just 24 hours. The system that produced that rainfall also caused flash flooding in the region. At least 22 people were killed.

At 28, New Jersey had the second-highest number of flood-related deaths reported in 2021. That was where Hurricane Ida, which had weakened to a tropical storm by the time it arrived in the Northeast, dumped nearly 10 inches of rain on parts of the state on Sept. 1.

The 145 flood fatalities reported in 2021 are the highest number of such deaths since 2017 when 180 died in floods. That was the year Hurricane Harvey dropped more than 60 inches of rain on parts of Texas. Nearly 70 people died in the storm. All but three of the deaths were attributed to flooding.

A majority of flood-related deaths stem from people who drive into floodwaters, according to the NWS. Driving into floodwaters is fraught with dangers – from the inability of drivers to judge the depth of the water to the unseen damage to the road underwater. Remember the adage, "Turn around, don’t drown."