Ohio River Flood Falls Short Of Predictions

A section of Marshall Street in the Benwood business district was closed Tuesday because of flooding. Photo by Scott McCloskey

WHEELING — When the Ohio River finally crested here Tuesday morning, it fell just short of reaching the level it had when it spilled its banks in February.

That was mostly a relief to emergency officials who had spent the previous few days preparing for what forecasters initially said could be the worst flood on the Ohio River in Wheeling in more than 13 years.

“We saw a lot of residents and businesses preparing for major flooding, and that is something that we really appreciated seeing in our communities,” said Tom Hart, Marshall County Emergency Management Director. “When the citizens are prepared, it really helps our first responders.”

Residents and businesses on Wheeling Island seemed to encounter the most problems. Early in the day, the Wheeling Police Department closed several of the streets on the Island because they were covered in water. That included South York Street, which leads to the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.

In fact, other than flooded basements, street and road closings seemed to be the only major concerns for emergency officials in West Virginia and Ohio.

Lou Vargo, Wheeling-Ohio County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director, said the county did not have any emergencies as a result of what the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh considered to be minor flooding.

However, he said an undetermined number of residents have flooded basements. Most of those are on Wheeling Island.

“If your basement or garage has 5 1/2 feet of water in it, it’s not minor to you,” he said.

Vargo said the cleanup would begin today, and he expects that to last at least a couple of days. He said emergency management officials and first responders in the city of Wheeling would begin to see how much damage there really is once the river falls below flood stage. That was expected to happen this morning.

The river in Wheeling officially crested at 38.34 feet, according to the weather service. Flood stage in Wheeling is 36 feet. On Feb. 18, the river in the city crested at 38.93 feet. That was the most the river had crested since January 2005, when the water reached 42.17 feet.

Hart said the water crested in Moundsville on Tuesday afternoon at about 40.3 feet. Flood stage in Moundsville is 37 feet. It had already started to recede by Tuesday evening.

“Moundsville Public Works will begin cleaning up River Front Park once the water has completely receded,” he said.

Bill Modzelewski, a meteorologist with the weather service, said the Ohio River didn’t get as high as forecasters initially thought it would because the Monongahela River, which flows into the Ohio in Pittsburgh, did not get as much water, either.

“Water in the Mon Basin was a little bit less than what we had anticipated,” he said.

Modzelewski said the weather should be mostly drier the next few days, with only light rain and scattered showers predicted at least until the weekend. But it is watching Hurricane Florence. As of Tuesday night, that hurricane was a Category 4 and was expected to cause significant problems in the Carolinas when it makes landfall later this week.

Depending on the track of that storm, the Ohio Valley could get rain from its remnants. Modzelewski said if that happens, it could drop water here as early as Sunday.

Hart also said he and the rest of West Virginia were preparing for the possibility of more flooding here next week as a result of the Florence storm system.

“Our focus now is following Hurricane Florence’s path and what impacts it may have on West Virginia and the Ohio Valley,” he said. “(Marshall County Emergency Management) will be participating in the conference calls and webinars this week with the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the National Weather Service offices that serve West Virginia and the West Virginia National Guard in Planning preparations for Florence.”

Earlier in the day, Hart said, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice issued a “State of Preparedness” declaration to allow the state emergency managers and National Guard to begin putting resources in place for that event.