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According to a radio broadcast of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s NOAA Weather Radio KHB36 162.550 MHz (Manassas, Virginia) on May 24, 2022, a few minutes before 00:00 UTC,

Turn around, don't drown when encountering flooded roads. Most flood deaths occur in vehicles.

I have heard this statement read out on this station many times during times of heavy rain in the area.

I found a website at The Weather Channel which asserts in a pie graph that 64 percent of flood deaths (excluding Hurricane Katrina victims) from 1995 to 2010 occured "in vehicles", but the graph is not sourced.

A website of NOAA seems to provide access to flood statistics, but their page for 2020, the most recent year available, details that only 47.37% of flood deaths were vehicle or trailer-related. 47.37% is certainly high but doesn't really qualify as "most" since it does not represent a majority.

Do most flood deaths, at least in the USA, occur in vehicles? What evidence backs up this assertion?

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    The two top categories on the NOAA pages for most years are "in water" and "vehicle". Someone who managed to escape their flooding vehicle but nonetheless died while in the flood waters would be categorized as an "in water" death per the NOAA categories. The Weather Channel data splits things differently. I suspect that the Weather Channel would classify this kind of death as an "in vehicle" death. May 25 at 11:10
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    Out of all the categories listed in the 2020 PDF you link to, the VE category certainly has the most deaths. If the statement used majority, then I'd agree with you, but this seems like a willful misinterpretation.
    – Peter K.
    May 25 at 12:25
  • @PeterK there's a question over on English SE, where the consensus seems to be that "most" most typically means "over 50%", but can sometimes mean a plurality (under 50%, but still the most numerous). May 25 at 12:53
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    @RobertColumbia Again, this seems to be a willful misunderstanding of the English SE post. The accepted answer clearly states that when there are multiple options, none of which is in the majority, then “most” is correct for the largest single grouping.
    – Peter K.
    May 25 at 13:22

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The NOAA has categorized data online for deaths due to flooding going back to 1996. The total number per year fluctuates quite significantly, but if we add the data from all years together we get 2123 deaths due to flooding, of which 1070 deaths were categorized as "in Vehicle". This is 50.4% of the total. So, yes there is data that suggest that the absolute majority of deaths due to flooding occurs in vehicles (if just barely).

Of course, "most" when dividing over multiple categories simple means the category that has the most assigned to it from all categories. Vehicle deaths easily satisfy that criterion, according to the NOAA data.

A second side note: The NOAA data includes both deaths due to flashing flooding and deaths due to river flooding. The pie chart from the Weather Channel mentioned in the OP is only about flash flooding. It is very plausible that the relative percentage of deaths in vehicles is higher for flash floods than for river floods, due to the shorter time scale.

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