Flash Flood Watch Covers Much of the Ohio Valley

WHEELING – Severe weather that was expected to blow into the Ohio Valley on Wednesday evening could continue to threaten the area today.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for Ohio, Brooke, Hancock and Wetzel counties in West Virginia and for Belmont, Harrison, Jefferson and Monroe counties in Ohio. It was to remain in effect from 10 p.m. Wednesday until this afternoon. Forecasts called for 1-2 inches of rain to fall across the region as thunderstorms traveled from Columbus to Wheeling to Morgantown.

The NWS cited the possibility that up to 3 inches of precipitation could fall in localized areas, increasing the risk for flooding.

Emergency managers from across the Mountain State had their eyes to the sky Wednesday as they participated in the annual West Virginia Emergency Management Conference, held at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack. Ohio County EMA Director Lou Vargo said some attendees participated in a briefing with the NWS Wednesday morning, discussing the possibility that severe weather could develop.

Some forecasts cited the potential for a derecho, a straight line wind storm that sweeps over a large area at high speed. Such a storm, which can produce tornado-like damage with wind gusts of up to 90 mph, swept across the area in June 2012. It downed numerous trees, caused extensive damage to some buildings and left several local residents without electrical service for days.

“Last year was one of those extremes,” Vargo said, noting the 2012 derecho formed on a hot summer day following a major temperature shift.

Vargo said the NWS did not predict that a derecho would occur as a result of the storms anticipated to develop Wednesday and today. Instead, the NWS predicted heavy rain would fall across the Ohio Valley, accompanied by winds of up to 60 mph and a chance of hail. Vargo said the primary concerns would be trees falling on power lines and the potential for high water, particularly along creeks and streams.

“The biggest danger is flash flooding, especially if it stalls over a particular area,” Vargo added.

Flash flooding is not uncommon in the local area at this time of year. On June 14, 1990, a wall of water tore through communities along Pipe and Wegee creeks, as well as Cumberland Run and McMahon Creek in Belmont County. The estimated 3-5 inches of rain that soaked the region that day claimed 26 lives, knocked homes off their foundations and carried vehicles and debris as far as 30 miles south along the Ohio River to the Hannibal Locks and Dam.

People were caught without warning in their homes and vehicles and at one local tavern, according to the Ohio Historical Society, after heavy rain pounded the area throughout that evening. The region’s soil was already saturated from extremely wet weather during the month of May, so the rain that fell June 14, 1990, ran off the steep hillsides and dumped into the Mead Township creeks.

Vargo warned that people who live along streams should always be cautious during storms and should pay attention to forecasts and weather warnings. He recommended that people obtain National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radios that will continue to function even when the power is out.