CHARLESTON — Much of West Virginia was placed on a flash flood watch by the National Weather Service starting Wednesday, when an inch or more of new rain was expected to descend on soil already soaked to the saturation point.
As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, the flash flood watches covered all counties except Greenbrier, Mercer, Summers and Monroe in the southeastern portion of the state, those in the Eastern Panhandle, and Brooke and Hancock counties at the tip of the Northern Panhandle. The flash flood watch was scheduled from Wednesday afternoon through early Thursday.
A new storm system approaching from the west was expected to arrive by midday Wednesday, bringing with it enough moisture to produce rainfall amounts ranging from a bit less than 1 inch in the Beckley area to nearly 1.5 inches in communities near the Ohio River.
“The additional rainfall could likely result in flash flooding and high water from area streams, creeks and rivers,” according to a statement from the weather service’s Charleston office.
On Tuesday, high water was causing problems along parts of Dry Branch Road and Ferrell Road in Kanawha County’s Tornado area, where the Big Coal River was approaching its crest a foot or two below flood stage from weekend rains.
At Hamlin in Lincoln County, the Mud River reached its flood stage at about 3 p.m. Tuesday and was expected to cause flooding in low areas between Hamlin and Palermo, according to the National Weather Service.
A flash flood warning means that conditions may develop that lead to flash flooding — a dangerous situation in which river banks, small bridges and culverts may become unstable and unsafe. Those living in the flash flood warning area should stay away from rain-swollen streams or risk being swept away.
Gov. Jim Justice ordered the state Emergency Operations Center and its staff to prepare for a response to additional flooding following flash floods that swept through seven southern coalfield counties late last week. On Friday, the governor issued an emergency proclamation for McDowell, Logan, Fayette, Greenbrier, Monroe, Raleigh and Wyoming counties after 2 to 4 inches of rain fell in a brief period of time, sending streams out of their banks, blocking roads and closing schools and businesses.
In Huntington, the Ohio River was predicted to rise to 48.5 feet by Friday before cresting, which would be just below a minor flood stage, according to the National Weather Service.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marks flood stage in Huntington as any rise above 50 feet and is broken into two categories: “minor” flood stage at 50 to 54.9 feet, or “major” flood stage at 55 feet and above, which would be enough to reach the base of the floodwall at Harris Riverfront Park.
According to Brian Bracey, the executive director of the Huntington Water Quality Board, it is not expected the floodgates will have to be closed as the Ohio River rises; however, crews are on call and prepared to respond immediately if the forecast changes.
In Ashland, the Ohio River was expected to reach just above the minor flood stage at 51.4 feet Friday before cresting. It’s in a flood stage once the river reaches above 50 feet.
Flooding at this stage would likely close roadways in low-lying areas due to backwater.
In Ironton, the river was predicted to rise to 43.1 feet by Friday, well below a flood stage of 52 feet.