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High Water Risk in Mountains

Snowmelt in the WV mountains can be a problem any winter, but this year that concern is heightened. Tony blogs about a rare early Flood Warning.

Flood Warning before Rain

If you are just a casual weather observer, then you may have missed my mention that a Flood Warning has been issued by my colleagues at the National Weather Service for mountainous West Virginia, including Nicholas County. The WARNING, not WATCH, commences Thursday night and runs into the weekend.

After all, 3D Doppler radar is quiet tonight and save for the few showers we had earlier today, has remained tame in the high country since mid last week. You see, we have just gone thru a 6 day period with plenty of sunshine and just a few light Wednesday showers. Flooding? Am I, are they kidding?

Consider this! In the high country of WV, we began this past weekend with 8 to 30 inches of snow on the ground, courtesy of a near record amount of February snow.

Slowly but surely that snow has melted by day then refrozen at night as the thaw-freeze cycle of March has taken hold. That means mountain streams like the Greenbrier, Gauley, New, Cherry, Upper Elk and Cheat Rivers are running high as we head toward the weekend.

Those higher waters will make trout fishing at Summersville and Sutton tail waters more challenging than normal.

Honestly though, that’s the perfect recipe to melt the snow without serious flooding IF NO RAINS ARE HEADING OUR WAY. But that’s where there is one problem. Now our supercomputers are suggesting this nice spell of spring weather is about to turn wet. Just how wet is open to speculation.

With the snow pack having been whittled down to anywhere from a trace to a few inches (in cities like Clay, Sutton, Richwood and Summersville) to still more than a foot in the high mountains (ski lodges for example), there is still a potent amount of snowmelt to come.

If that snowmelt comes coincident with a few inches of rain Friday and Saturday, the stage will be set for major rises and probable flooding on our mountain rivers.

The pre-emptive strike flood forecast from the National Weather Service is designed to heighten awareness in our mountain river valleys.

That said, if you live along a stream prone to late winter flooding, Thursday should be a day when you formulate a plan in the event the “Mountain Mamma” that John Denver wrote about decides to turn against you. No panic is needed, just common sense planning.

I recall a similar early Flood Warning in September 2004 for the Ohio River as Hurricanes Ivan and Frances passed. If you live along the mighty Ohio you know all too well the damage that those floods wrought. The early warning then was spot on!

One final word, all the rain and snowmelt water that does flow down our mountain streams will in time make it into the Kanawha and Ohio, so interests along those rivers, stay tuned.

Here’s a neat hydrograph website that the pros at the NWS use. Just pick your spot and watch the forecasts being spat out by the weather models. I believe you will see the forecasted levels change as new data is ingested.

http://www.erh.noaa.gov/rlx/hydro/hydro.html
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