Thanksgiving High Water

 Friday Night Update

The Ohio River has crested late this Friday evening and is falling in the Byrd Pool from Point Pleasant upstream to Pomeroy. In the Greenup Pool, which runs from Gallipolis Ferry to City Park Greenup, the river is at crest some 5-10 feet below flood stage.

That crest will work its way downstream through the Meldahl Pool including Portsmouth and Vanceburg.

The mighty Ohio will fall steadily the rest of the holiday weekend.

Ohio River Update
The Ohio River is rising this Thanksgiving holiday and is set to crest on Friday roughly five (5) feet below flood stage. Given the fact that the boating season is long since over, this unremarkable high water mark might seem a mere nuisance at worst or just spectacle at best.
Tony Fulks, a campground owner on the river in Proctorville Ohio, disagrees. “I am concerned about my tractor equipment. It is vulnerable to a high crest even if we don’t hit the flood stage”, Tony told me by phone on Wednesday.
Now the 45 foot crest forecast from the hydrologists at the National Weather Service (NWS) is worth a closer inspection for Route 2 and 7 travelers since backwater problems will cause some road closures along the river. The Henderson section near the great Kanawha’s mouth and the Raceway in West Portsmouth come to mind.
Here’s a neat link to track the crest from NWS along with some historical tidbits on all our rivers.
From a historical perspective, strong rises on the mighty Ohio River are usually a late winter and spring beast. The combination of melting snows and warms rains in February-March and tropical downpours and thunderstorms in April-May rank as the top two high water periods on our calendar.
I am known to say that the two changes in season (winter-spring and spring-summer) are the flood seasons on our rivers.
Of course Mother Nature often knows no temporal bounds, so if she decides to send a pair of hurricanes (Ivan and Frances) through the region back to back like she did in September 2004, the flood gates will be raised from Huntington to Catlettsburg to Portsmouth.
Likewise if winter rains overwhelm snowfall as they did back in 1937, there is no way to hold the mighty Ohio and great Kanawha back.
January of ’37 witnessed a remarkable 3 weeks of rain along the entire 981 mile stretch of the Ohio. From old Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh to the Ohio’s muddy mouth in Cairo Illinois warm spring-like rains fell in buckets.
Huntington experienced its wettest month ever (not just wettest January, the wettest month) with a foot of rain water falling on a dormant and saturated ground that year. The river went into flood by mid-month and remarkably stayed in flood for 3 weeks.
I still recall the words of my late friend GiGi Narcise. “Tony I was a kid and our home was flooded. We had to be rescued from the roof of our home by boat. After we went back, we could smell the stench of must in the house for years”.
In those days before the flood wall and flood control dams, the river crested at a mammoth 69 feet, 19 feet over flood stage. Water made it all the way to the Cabell County Courthouse and what is now Edwards Stadium was submerged in flood waters.
The flood walls would be constructed by the Army Corp beginning the next year and the flood control dam project that ensued would protect cities like Huntington, Ashland, Ironton and Portsmouth for decades to come. As Dave Meadows from the Army Corp told me last spring as we watched the Ohio overwhelm Paducah Kentucky, “unless all the water falls below our dams, we will protect the cities along the Ohio”.
In Paducah’s case, even the flood wall was not enough to protect the city.
Another unsung high water period is the one we are in now. Though November marks the final month of the fall dry season, it can be a notorious time for river flooding. That happened in 1985 when Tropical Storm Juan inundated the eastern half of West Virginia.
Just this past summer, I took a tour of the West Fork through Weston in Lewis County WV. There the Stonewall Jackson Lake and dam were constructed to protect Weston from another devastating flood as in 1985.
More recently, November in 2003 ranks as the wettest on record in Charleston WV. Almost ten (10) sopping inches of rain fell that waterlogged month. Late that month, the Kanawha River reached its 30 foot flood stage for only the second time in my 20+ years here in West Virginia.
So you see, high water can occur any month!
One final note, what we are watching on our rivers this week is likely a snapshot of things to come this LA NINA winter ahead. La Nina refers to the cooling of the equatorial Pacific Ocean and is a topic for a blog next month. When the Pacific has the chills, our weather trends wet and stormy!
For now realize that if you are river watching this Thanksgiving along the Little Kanawha in Central WV through Glenville-Grantsville-Elizabeth or along the main stem of the Ohio from Point Park in Parkersburg to City Park in Greenup, there may well be more and higher waters ahead this winter.
I will talk about what LA NINA is and why winters like 1937 are likely to have high water on our holiday special, “the Winter of 2011-2012” which airs Thanksgiving and Christmas days from 5:30 to 6 on WSAZ.
For now I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.
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