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The unfortunate, but predicable West Virginia flood

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  • The unfortunate, but predicable West Virginia flood

    Source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/06/24/2-dead-floods-sweep-west-virginia/86329316/



    The bodies of three more victims of West Virginia's historic flooding were found overnight Saturday, according to county authorities, raising the death toll to 26 from torrential rains and high water that has destroyed more than 100 homes, washed out scores of roads and bridges and knocked out power to tens of thousands of people.

    On Saturday, President Obama declared a major disaster for West Virginia and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the counties of Greenbrier, Kanawha and Nicholas.

    The Kanawha County sheriff's office said Saturday that one man was found in a home in the Clendenin area and two females were found in a home along the Elk River. The officials said it is presumed that all three had drowned.

    At least 23 others, including an 8-year-old boy who was wading in a foot of water, were killed in the torrential flooding after as much as 8-10 inches of rain fell in six to eight hours in parts of the state on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. This amount of rain in such a short time is likely a "one-in-a-thousand-year event," the weather service said.

    © Copyright Original Source



    The flood was tragic with at least 26 deaths, and millions of dollars damage, but this type of flood is very predictable, and more frequent than the one-in-a-thousand year event described by the source above.

    I worked in West Virginia for more than 15 years mapping soils, geology and floodplains. The hazard of floods like these is actually very high particularly East of the Allegheny Front where these floods took place. The worst flood in recent history was the 1985 flood. I actually worked on the recovery for that flood.

    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1985_Election_day_floods


    The 1985 Election Day floods (also known as the Killer Floods of 1985 in West Virginia)[1] produced the costliest floods in both West Virginia and Virginia in November 1985. The event occurred after Hurricane Juan, a tropical cyclone in the 1985 Atlantic hurricane season, meandered near the coast of Louisiana before striking just west of Pensacola, Florida late on October 31. Juan moved northward into Canada, but spawned another system that spread moderate rainfall across the Mid-Atlantic States, wetting soils. On November 3, a low pressure area developed south of Florida and moved northeastward along a cold front, bringing a plume of moisture influenced by Juan's previous track. The storm moved through the southeastern United States, stalling on November 5 west of Washington, D.C. before turning out to sea the next day. The event was known as the Election Day floods due to its concurrence with elections in Virginia.

    Damage was heaviest in Virginia and West Virginia. In the former state, the rainfall peaked at 19.77 in (502 mm) just northeast of Montebello. The rains increased levels along many rivers to record heights across Virginia, including the James River which crested at 42.15 feet (12.85 m) at a station called Holcomb Rock, the highest level in the state. In Roanoke, the Roanoke River rose 18.57 ft (5.66 m) in ten hours to a peak of 23.35 ft (7.12 m), considered a 1 in 200 year event. In the city, many residents had to be rescued after they were trapped, and three people drowned by driving into flooded waters. Considered the worst flood on record in the city, Roanoke sustained $225 million in damage, with 3,100 damaged homes and businesses. There was also flooding in Richmond after the James River crested at the second-highest level on record. Throughout Virginia, damage was estimated at $753 million, making it the state's costliest flood at the time, and there were 22 deaths.

    © Copyright Original Source



    The worst flood would be the result of a hurricane or tropical storm moves across Eastern West Virginia. The Allegheny front is high enough to block the rain and the heaviest rains dump on hilly country East of the Front. Flood plain planning and relocation of residential homes and commercial business out of the flood plain is the only real answer. t is costly to build structures with the first floor over 40 feet off the ground. These floods were well within the 100 year flood frequency flood plain.
    Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
    Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
    But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

    go with the flow the river knows . . .

    Frank

    I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

  • #2
    Judging from the photographs, and a friend with the Geologic Survey in West Virginia the majority of the damage and total losses were structures rebuilt or newly constructed in the flood plain since 1985. I noticed one photo of a Sewage treatment plant where int was built up about fifty feet, and the flood mark on the wall was about 40 feet.

    The main difference between this flood and the 1985 flood is this storm hit the New River watershed harder, and the catastrophic flooding extended more down the New River to the Kanawha River.

    When I mapped soils in the flood plains I found a number of gravelly boulderly layers in this region which indicates the frequent catastrophic floods of short duration are common. For example this feature is not present in the flood plains of the Piedmont in North Carolina where I know live. This is not a common type of flood in this region, though flooding does occur mostly associated with hurricanes.
    Last edited by shunyadragon; 06-27-2016, 06:43 AM.
    Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
    Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
    But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

    go with the flow the river knows . . .

    Frank

    I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by shunyadragon View Post
      Flood plain planning and relocation of residential homes and commercial business out of the flood plain is the only real answer. t is costly to build structures with the first floor over 40 feet off the ground. These floods were well within the 100 year flood frequency flood plain.
      Would this account for a large stretch of this particular part of West Virginia or just a limited set of areas? How many square miles do you have in mind?

      This reminds me of the (limited) calls not to rebuild New Orleans in the same location. There was plenty of logic behind it but the idea was going to be a political non-starter.
      "I am not angered that the Moral Majority boys campaign against abortion. I am angry when the same men who say, "Save OUR children" bellow "Build more and bigger bombers." That's right! Blast the children in other nations into eternity, or limbless misery as they lay crippled from "OUR" bombers! This does not jell." - Leonard Ravenhill

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by KingsGambit View Post
        Would this account for a large stretch of this particular part of West Virginia or just a limited set of areas? How many square miles do you have in mind?
        This specific region roughly extends from just North of the Pennsylvania border with Maryland and West Virginia to the Southern border of Virginia. The western boundary is the Allegheny Front, and the Eastern Border is roughly the Shenandoah River Valley. The major topographic feature that causes this is the continuous sharp Allegheny Front that forces most of the rain to fall East of this feature. To the South the Blue Ridge mountains are more broken and less continuous, and a similar broken feature occurs in Pennsylvania. The weather patterns do not impact the South nor the North as much as this middle region. The weather/climate feature is the prevailing course of hurricanes, tropical storms and large wet low pressure systems that come from the south. either parallel the Allegheny Front or directly cross it. This does not conclude that similar occurrences do not occur North or South of this region, it is just they are less common, particularly in the Blue Ridge South. This region sort of represents the 'Perfect Storm' for the circumstances of this type of sudden catastrophic flood.

        This reminds me of the (limited) calls not to rebuild New Orleans in the same location. There was plenty of logic behind it but the idea was going to be a political non-starter.
        Each region has its particular topographic, weather and climate patterns that could set a consistent stage for catastrophic disasters. The Gulf Coast has the characteristic that hurricanes most often hit the coast head on where in the East Coast the prevalent storm pattern is that it sweeps parallel to the coast and than possibly heads inland, or sweeps across the Piedmont and the Allegheny front, which leads to these inland catastrophic floods.

        In a hydrology class I took at NCSU we modeled different scenarios of the potential disasters of the delta region. These models took into consideration land subsidence due to petroleum extraction, artificial control over over the river course, and sea level rise. We modeled different hurricane impacts. The Katrina disaster was right out of the models and could have been much worse.
        Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
        Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
        But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

        go with the flow the river knows . . .

        Frank

        I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

        Comment


        • #5
          I never understood why anyone would buy a home in a flood plain. When I bought my last home, I even did online topographical searches to make sure I was buying on high ground because there was a river nearby and I knew that it was known to flood every 10 years or so.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Sparko View Post
            I never understood why anyone would buy a home in a flood plain. When I bought my last home, I even did online topographical searches to make sure I was buying on high ground because there was a river nearby and I knew that it was known to flood every 10 years or so.
            In West Virginia it is difficult in many areas, particularly this region, to build above the flood, because the level of these floods may be ~40 feet or more. It is not impossible, but would require government assistence and flood plain regulation, and in West Virginia it would not float, pun intended.
            Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
            Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
            But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

            go with the flow the river knows . . .

            Frank

            I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

            Comment

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