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Flood Review: Past and Present

Tony adds some perspective on floods of last week and yesteryear.


Bag Some Bucks Recap and Flood Perspective

I wanted to thank all who have taken time in some way to help out the flood victims of Southeastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia. Whether you tossed a few bucks into the collection sack or said a prayer for our neighbors down south, what matters is that you did your part.

As I helped man our Town Center Mall makeshift “Bag Some Bucks” venue today in Charleston, I actually lost my voice for a time as my “huckster” lungs ran out of spunk. You were generous in dropping Lincolns (5) and Hamiltons (10), Jacksons (20) and even US Grants (50) into the money sack. All told, we raised more than 30,000 dollars today!

At noon, I had the pleasure to interview Phil Pfister, former World’s Strongest Man. Phil presented the Red Cross with a hefty check from his employer, Chesapeake Energy. Moments later, a young special Olympian named Jonathon threw his change into the sack! It was a team effort.

As the day grew warmer and breezier like in a tropical paradise, my mind wandered to other years we have done such collections.

We first “bagged bucks” after the great Mississippi River Flood in 1993. That year Melanie Shafer had just joined us at WSAZ-TV. She was a trooper in working a grueling Saturday and Sunday shift on the steamy banks of the Ohio River during Summerfest 1993. The Mississippi stayed in flood for a solid month that year!

We would go on to bag more bucks for flood relief in June 1998 after a similar cloudburst that hit this past weekend in the Coalfields, affected the I-77 corridor from Athens-Zanesville to Parkersburg to Ripley-Spencer-Clendenin-Clay.

The air had turned tropically humid that June weekend and remained super saturated for a 4 day period. The initial 1”-3” of rain that fell merely soaked the ground on Friday. Then the main event hit that Saturday night and Sunday morning when 3”-6” fell overnight. Streams like the Elk and Pocatalico turned into raging rivers. People lost their possessions and in some cases their homes.

In early May 2002, a series of training thunderstorms brought violent downpours which swamped the Tug River Valley of McDowell and Mingo Counties. I recall WSAZ reporter Raquel Dixon reporting from Welch WV with waters rushing down the streets of that Coal town.

In May 2004, Memorial weekend to be exact, flash floods swallowed up parts of the Kentucky Coalfields. Martin, Pike and Floyd were among those hardest hit. Just 5 days later, the infamous Pigeon Creek flood of June gobbled up the zone around Burch High and Red Jacket across the Tug Fork in Mingo County. In the Pie and Varney region of Mingo County, some 2000 homes were damaged.

All these floods in our region have one thing in common. They feed on stalled fronts and training thunderstorms. In a storm train, one wave after another (one box car after another) rolls thru a select region dumping buckets of rain water.

The tough part in forecasting these storm trains is in determining where they will set up and how long they will last. Most rain themselves out in a few hours leaving behind nuisance street flooding and small stream overflow. But on occasion, these storm trains have so many cars (storms) that the rains that fall are remarkable.

This past weekend, the storm train track ran from Floyd and Pike Kentucky thru Mingo into Logan Counties. It was far from run-of-the-mill. By some estimates, 6 inches of rain fell in a 6 hour period. Given the ground was already wet from earlier week rains, a flash flood of consequence was unavoidable.

As to the notion that these flash floods set up in the Coalfields seemingly more often than other areas, I add a word of caution. Namely; the number of severe floods in our region are too numerous to document here. They have affected all 3 of our states (Ohio took the brunt of the effects from the passage of Ivan and Frances back to back in September 2004. Just ask folks who live along the Ohio River in Pomeroy).

It is true that the geology of the Coalfields, with its steeper terrain, enhances the amount of water that makes it into the rivers and streams. In effect the rains that falls on you, in the hills above you and upstream from you add up to create a torrential trilogy for possible flooding.

Mountain top removal too adds a degree of runoff since where land is cleared of trees, there will be more runoff.

Still, floods like this occurred the past 2 years in the flatlands of Northern Ohio and Indiana with a similar loss of property. So to blame the geology or deforestation for the flooding is a stretch. They can enhance the runoff but are not in themselves responsible for flooding.

Bottom line, when a month of rain falls in a single night, bad things are going to happen.

Our next risk of a thundershower comes on Friday and of drenching storms will come on Saturday as tropical air conspires to wash away some outdoor events. But whether the Armed Forces Parade in South Charleston or your golf game is to be rained out is a matter of conjecture. You see Friday and Saturday’s rains don’t exist right now as was the case last Friday night when at 8 o’clock the eventual storm train that flooded the Coalfields did not yet exist.
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