Flooding in West Virginia
On this page you learn what types of flooding are typical in Virginia and how do you protect yourself, your family and your home. You will also find out more about significant West Virginia floods. Finally, you'll find links to NWS offices that provide forecast and safety information for West Virginia as well as links to our partners who play a significant role in keeping you safe.
|Significant West Virginia
November 1985 Flood
Up to 10 inches of rain fell during the November 1985 flood and raging rivers struck throughout the state. The headwaters of the Potomac, Greenbrier, and Little Kanawha rivers saw rainfall rates of 3-6 inches in 12 hours. These same rainfall rates affected an even larger percentage of the Cheat, Tygart Valley, and West Fork river basins.
The Cheat and Greenbrier rivers crested at record levels. Record water heights were also seen on portions of the Tygart Valley, Little Kanawha, and West Fork rivers, and on the north and south Branches of the Potomac. At Parsons, the Cheat River crested 10 feet above flood stage and 4 feet higher than the previous record from July 1888. At Glenville, the Little Kanawha River crested 13 feet above flood stage and about 2 feet higher than the March 1967 flood. At Philippi, the Tygart Valley River crested nearly 15 feet above flood stage, around 4 feet higher than the previous record stage. At Moorefield, the South Branch of the Potomac River crested about 10 feet above flood stage and nearly 4 feet higher than June 1949, the previous record.
There were 47 deaths in West Virginia from the flood of 1985. Pendleton and Grant counties had the most fatalities. Towns such as Parsons, Rowlesburg, Philippi, Marlinton, Glenville, Petersburg, and Moorefield were severely damaged. The 1985 flood caused an estimated $570 million in damages. More than 3,500 homes and 180 businesses were destroyed.
In the aftermath of this flood, cleanup and recovery efforts were greatly aided by an unusually mild November.
Downtown Philippi, 1985 Flood, courtesy of AP/Wide World Photos
Moorefield, 1985 Flood, courtesy of West Virginia Division of Culture and History
Aerial View 1 and 2 November 1985 Philippi WV, courtsey of www.ncsec.org
January 1957 Flood
In February of 1957, heavy rains caused disastrous floods in southwest Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. A dozen people died in the region, and thousands lost their homes. President Dwight Eisenhower declared 28 Appalachian counties disaster areas, and the National Guard was called in to help. Einsenhower called the 1957 flood the worst in almost 100 years.
Pineville, WV, courtesy of www.topix.com
Welch, WV, courtesy of www.topix.com
August 4-5, 1943
A notable flood of short duration and high intensity occurred during the night of August 4-5, 1943, in central West Virginia. The affected area was about 50 miles long and 10 miles wide in the diamond-shaped Kanawha River Basin, with elevations generally ranging from about EL 600 to EL 1500 (Figure below). Point rainfall amounted to as much as 15 inches in 2 hours. According to the U.S. Weather Bureau (1943), the record-breaking rains were accompanied by “one of the worst, if not the worst, electrical storms of record.”
There were 23 deaths due to the flood, all of whom lived along relatively small tributaries. Six precipitation gages in the area recorded rainfall depths of only 0.31 inches to 5.0 inches, failing to provide a complete picture of the scattered intense rainfall pockets in the area. Representatives of the Corps of Engineers, the Weather Bureau, and the West Penn Power Company thoroughly investigated the storm, interviewing local residents and obtaining an additional 118 data points from the amount of water collected in pails, tubs, jars and other containers that were uncovered and open during the storm.
Isohyetal map of Little Kanawha River Basin (Source: USGS WSP 1134A)
This home was swept a half mile downstream and came to rest in the creek bed. All six inhabitants perished. (Source: USGS WSP 1134A)
The single largest property damaged from the flood was a 10-mile stretch of the B & O Railroad, in which six railroad bridges and much of the track was destroyed. Heavy deposits of sand and gravel washed down many small runs. An example of the damage from the storm is shown in Figure 3. Some of the highest unit discharges were 4,700 cfs (3,100 cfs/mi2) for the North Fork Yellow Creek (1.51 mi2) and 7,400 cfs (3,060 cfs/mi2) for Laurel Fork above White Pine (2.42 mi2). Discharges were estimated by the slope-area method.
April 1977 Flood
Heavy rains fell over the Appalachian region of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia during from April 2-5, 1977, causing record flooding. Rainfall amounts of 4 to 15.5 inches were observed. The maximum amount of 15.5 inches occurred at Jolo, WV, in about 30 hours. This was more than twice the amount which would be expected for a 100-year recurrance-interval storm. Communities along the Tug Fork were under more than 20 feet of water from Welch to Fort Gay. Several small towns, including Matewan, Tacker, and Lobata, were completely inundated. In all, 22 people were killed by the flood and property damages were estimated to be more than $400 million. This was the flood that started the First Alert rain gauge network in the country.
Downtown Matewan, 1977 flood, courtsey of www.topix.com
Downtown Bradshaw, 1977 Flood, Courtsey of McDowell County, WV Photo Album
January 1996 Flood
The floods of January 1996 were the result of a rapid snowmelt punctuated by a short but intense rainfall. What made this event so unusual was the nature and the intensity of the snowmelt, combined with the intense rainfall for this time of year, over such a large geographical area. The flooding was compounded by ice movement and jamming in many of the rivers and streams. The floods were described by some as a flash flood for main-stem rivers due to the unprecedented rates of rise recorded during this event.
There were several ingredients that led up to this flood event. A deep snowpack was in place across the region in the wake of three snow storms that occurred from January 6-13, including the "Blizzard of '96" on January 6-8. Snow depths of 6-12 inches were common, with locally higher amounts in the highest elevations of the West Virginia Mountains.
Blizzard of 1996 Snowfall Totals, NOAA
Record-breaking warmth with dew points rising to near 60°F at places preceded a vigorous frontal system on January 18-19 as strong southerly surface winds exceeding 30 kt. sent temperatures into the 50s and 60s as far north as the Canadian border. This combination of warmth, high dew points, and wind quickly melted the snow. Snowmelt amounts totals averaged 1-3 inches over much of the flood area. Snowmelt of this magnitude in January is extremely unusual. In addition, a general 1- to 3-inch rainfall accompanied a cold front as it swept across the region on Friday, January 19, and fell on the melting snowpack. Overall, it is estimated that 2-5 inches of rain plus snowmelt were produced in less than 24-36 hours.
The south branch of the Potomac River, as well as the Cheat and Monongahela rivers in West Virginia experienced their highest levels since early November 1985.
Flash flooding is a rapid and extreme flow of high water into a normally dry area, or a rapid water level rise in a stream or creek above a predetermined flood level, beginning within six hours of the causative event (i.e.,
intense rainfall, dam failure, ice jam). More information...
River flooding occurs when river levels rise and overflow their banks or the edges of their main channel and inundate areas that are normally dry. More information...
A back-up of water into surrounding areas can occur when a river or stream is blocked by a build-up of ice or other debris. Debris Jam: A back-up of water into surrounding areas can occur when a river or stream is blocked by a build-up of debris. More information...
Flooding due to snowmelt most often occurs in the spring when rapidly warming temperatures quickly melt the snow. The water runs off the already saturated ground into nearby streams and rivers, causing them to rapidly rise and, in some cases, overflow their banks.More information...
Dam Breaks/Levee Failure
A break or failure can occur with little to no warning. Most often they are caused by water overtopping the structure, excessive seepage through the surrounding ground, or a structural failure. More information...
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