It’s not the first time that northwestern Ontario residents have dealt with a number of highway closures in the area, whether it be from a Colorado Low, a transport truck accident or the occasional 880,000 lb boulder, but it’s been a strange start to the spring season with countless closures due to flooding and washouts of roadways.

Extremely high water levels after a snowy winter season and a rainy start to the spring have caused drivers across the region to hold their breath and hope for the best when they’ve been forced to cross a flooded roadway, as one mistake can lead to damage from a hidden pothole, a stalled combustion engine and even more issues for hybrid or electric vehicles.

“This year is absolutely different than any spring on record in the area,” says Education Manager of Young Drivers of Canada and former director of Young Drivers Kenora and Dryden, Maria Bagdonas.

Bagdonas is stressing the importance of driving safely while over a standing pool of water on any roadway in the area, and has offered a number of safety tips to keep residents as safe as possible and to allow emergency responders to conduct their important work elsewhere. Her safety tips include:

“Visibility. Can you see what’s on the other side? Can you see if there’s something underneath the water? Is it hiding a washout? Visibility is really important. I certainly wouldn’t cross any unchecked crossings if the lighting conditions are poor or non-existent.”

“Drive in the centre of the road. Most of our roadways are built with the highest point in the centre with a small amount of slope. The highest point of land or pavement will be in the centre of the road. If both ways of traffic are moving, try to stay as close to the centre as you can.”

“Travel at a speed that is steady, but not doing a bunch of splashing or causing wakes. The last thing you want to do is slow down and stop in the middle of standing water. Once you’re going through, commit, and maintain a good following distance between you and the vehicle ahead. If they encounter something, you have enough time to react.”

“If the water is going to be beyond the seam of your door and it could potentially get inside the passenger compartment of the car, I would say that’s not a crossing that you want to attempt. It’s not a matter of getting through it quickly. You need to think about what that pool of water is hiding.”

Experts say if your car floods and your engine stalls out, do not try to restart it, as attempting to start a water-logged engine can cause major damage. Instead, residents should call for assistance and can attempt to push the vehicle to higher ground.

The National Weather Service and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention say more than half of flood-related drownings occur when someone drives through dangerous water, and a small car can be moved with as little as 12” of flowing water.

Bagdonas adds that if you plan on heading through an area with water on the roadway or a washout, residents should bring their charged cell phone with them, have a hands-free setting and be ready to call for assistance if needed.

Washouts and closures due to water on the road in the area, as of the afternoon of May 12, include:

- Flooding on Highway 658 in both directions, North of the Basket Lake Bridge.
- Flooding on Highway 71 at Maybrun Road, one lane is blocked.
- Flooding on Gordon Lake Road, west of McIntosh Road.
- Flooding on Highway 105 from Highway 17 to Highway 609 in both directions.
- Flooding on Highway 17 eastbound at Rhyner’s Road, a lane is closed.
- Flooding on Highway 605 between Highway 17 and 605 in multiple locations.