A flash flood is a rapid flooding of geomorphic low-lying areas: washes, rivers, dry lakes and basins. It may be caused by heavy rain associated with a severe thunderstorm, hurricane, tropical storm, or meltwater from ice or snow flowing over ice sheets or snowfields. Flash floods may occur after the collapse of a natural ice or debris dam, or a human structure such as a man-made dam.
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During a typical rain shower, some of the water is soaked up by the land, while the rest of it runs off into lakes, rivers, or streams. As the intensity of the rain increases, a larger portion of the rainwater becomes runoff, as less is able to be absorbed by the land.
Flash floods can occur under several types of conditions. Flash flooding occurs when it rains rapidly on saturated soil or dry soil that has poor absorption ability. The runoff collects in gullies and streams and, as they join to form larger volumes, often forms a fast flowing front of water and debris.
Flash floods most often occur in normally dry areas that have recently received precipitation, but they may be seen anywhere downstream from the source of the precipitation, even many miles from the source. In areas on or near volcanoes, flash floods have also occurred after eruptions, when glaciers have been melted by the intense heat.