Kanawha River Unforgiving
The surreal crash of an SUV into the Kanawha River on Thursday came at an especially inopportune time as the river had risen 6 feet in 24 hours after the heavy rains of Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
Those heavy rains fell not only along the main stem of the Kanawha but also feeder rivers like the Elk, Gauley and New. These three basins (the Sutton, Summersville and Burnsville dams respectively) acted as one and sent their murky surges of rain water into the Great Kanawha simultaneously resulting in the 6 foot rise.
Given the stout rise in the water level a swifter current resulted and made the search and rescue efforts even more difficult.
The oddity is that a year ago, the Kanawha ran high all of April thanks to 6 inches of rain water. Water covered the Schoenbaum stage area and Magic Island on two different occasions as the rains were relentless in April 2011.
So compared to Thursday night’s water levels, the Kanawha was still running 6-10 feet lower than last April !.
Naturally with rising waters come faster stream flows and murkier conditions for divers to deal with. That means it is harder for divers to maintain their stability and bearing. It also means it is harder to see underwater. Sonar becomes the only practical way to find something.
Trouble is the swifter flow will be more capable of rolling the SUV downstream perhaps for miles.
Had the accident occurred before the rains say on Wednesday, the Kanawha would have been a much friendlier river to navigate. Perhaps the lower water levels would have helped the SUV stay closer to the bank? Maybe not even submerge? Perhaps the ability of the SUV to be pushed along with the slower current would have been reduced? Those are questions we will never find answers for.
Here’s a link to the hydrograph from the National Weather Service.
Just click on Charleston on the map and you can track the river’s rises and falls all year long. It shows the Kanawha rising a few more feet, then cresting on Friday morning. The river would then begin a steady fall Friday afternoon. Still calmer, clearer conditions are not expected until the weekend when the river is forecast to return to its unseasonably low level for April.