ASHEVILLE, NC - U.S. Forest Service officials have issued a flash flood safety bulletin for visitors to the Nantahala, Pisgah, and Uwharrie National Forests in North Carolina. The National Weather Service describes a flash flood as a rapid rise of water in a low-lying area, usually caused by an intense storm that produces heavy rainfall in a short amount of time. Rising flood waters can carry a velocity strong enough to roll boulders and vehicles, tear out trees, destroy bridges and undermine roads. A low-lying area can become extremely dangerous in a matter of minutes.

Weather experts say the best defense is to be weather-ready before a storm hits.

As with all remote and rural locations in the U.S., warnings from city sirens don't exist out in nature. Remember to check the National Weather Service forecast before you leave home, and be alert for changing weather conditions while visiting the forest. Devices like a weather radio, a terrestrial radio and a smart-phone application can help visitors stay tuned-in during their outdoor activities.

"Local folks and out-of-state visitors frequent North Carolina's forests year-round, to hike, bike, ride their horses, camp, boat, watch birds and enjoy the scenery," said Delce Dyer, developed recreation program manager with the Forest Service's National Forests in North Carolina. "It's important for people to be weather-ready and alert. Safety isn't seasonal."

Flood awareness can be especially critical for campers. A flash flood can happen at a moment's notice, any time of the day and any time of the year. It is nearly impossible to see the water depths and the force of the current when a flash flood happens at night.

"Many people enjoy sleeping under the stars in developed campgrounds and dispersed areas in the national forests in North Carolina," Dyer said. "Favorite campsites are often near streams and rivers. People don't expect a sudden rush of water toward their tent or camper. Always be alert for sudden rain storms, water flowing into low areas or the sound of rushing water."

Most of the Uwharrie National Forest's campgrounds are open this winter. A few are open in the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, but most will re-open in April and May.

Follow these safety tips to avoid flash floods:

• Safety is your own responsibility whenever you head outdoors.
• Families should discuss how they would alert each other and get to a safe zone if rushing or rising water, or any other emergency, interrupts their trip.
• When visiting a forest, be alert for heavy rains and sudden changes in weather.
• Recreating or camping near a stream or river can be a risk if there are thunderstorms in the area.
• Flash floods can occur with little or no warning.
• When a NOAA flash flood warning is issued for your area, or the moment you realize that water is rising around you, act quickly.
• In remote areas of the forest, use of cell phones and digital data services may be limited.

The Nantahala, Pisgah, Uwharrie, and Croatan National Forests make up the National Forests in North Carolina. For more information about flash floods, visit Up-to-date weather information is available at