Jill Burcum
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It's a really bad feeling when your car starts to float.

That's what I remember most clearly about getting caught in a flash flood on University Avenue in Fridley eight years ago. The gentle rocking motion is comforting on a boat. It's near panic-inducing in a vehicle, especially when your car won't start and water coming in goes all the way up to your waist.

With incredible amounts of rainfall drenching the state and numerous roads under water, state officials understandably and repeatedly warned motorists to "turn around, don't drown" at a news conference Monday morning on the flooding impacting northern and southern Minnesota.

That's excellent advice. I'll add my experience to help ensure this message sinks in.

I was on my way home from work one day in July 2016. It had been overcast and in the midafternoon it started to pour.

I didn't think much of it as I pulled out of a downtown Minneapolis parking ramp and headed home to Andover. I had a route that kept me off freeways as much as possible. The first leg took me north on University Avenue (Hwy. 47) through Minneapolis, Columbia Heights and Fridley.

I had crested the hill by Sarna's Classic Grill and started down it when trouble began. Cars' red taillights flashed ahead and traffic slowed to a crawl. It seemed like an accident had happened ahead.

By the time I figured out the real problem — street flooding — it was too late. Cars were stopped ahead of me in both lanes. There was about a foot of water on the road, a depth that doubled in minutes and kept rising. My car stalled out and wouldn't restart.

I had driven this route for years, never once thinking it was flood-prone. But geography had created a bowl of sorts on that stretch of University south of Interstate 694. To the east is rolling terrain. To the west is the Mississippi River.

The patch of road where my car was stalled was between the water rushing downhill from the east to join the Mississippi. Making matters worse, there was a high chain-link fence separating the road from the residential and commercial areas bordering it.

I was already worried about the current and the wind-driven waves slapping my car. But climbing a chain-link fence added to the complexities of getting out and finding higher ground on foot. So, I stayed put, which is what the 911 operator also advised.

Emergency crews were soon on the scene, but it took time to get to all of us. I got to know a frightened teenager in the car next to me, and did my best to keep us both calm as the water rose to our car windows and then came pouring in.

After about 40 minutes, a first responder escorted the girl, then me to the chain-link fence and helped us clamber over. Residents of nearby apartment buildings, who had shouted encouragement to the drivers caught in the flood, greeted us with towels and kind words.

It was a harrowing experience, one that totaled my car and left an impression. You can get into trouble in matter of minutes, maybe even seconds, on a flooded road. What may look like a depth you can drive through can change swiftly.

I didn't even know I was driving into rushing water. It still boggles my mind how fast the water came up in a place I didn't even know could flood. And to those with bigger vehicles, don't be overconfident. There were plenty of SUVs and pickup trucks trapped on the road with me.

As the state continues to grapple with floods and with more rain potentially on the way, consider this from the National Weather Service.

"Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling. A foot of water will float many vehicles. Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pick-ups."

Wherever you're headed, it's not worth the risk of driving on a flooded road. Conditions can change rapidly and most vehicles aren't designed to navigate a flood. It's easy to get into a bad situation and difficult to extricate yourself from it.

"Over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water," the National Weather Service reports.

So, please, turn around if there's water on the road ahead. Trust me, you don't want to know what it's like to have your car bobbing beneath you.