January thaw brings high water to Greenbrier River
A mid-winter warm-up, accompanied by heavy rain, brought high water to Pocahontas County communities along the Greenbrier River from Durbin to Seebert Thursday morning.
County authorities went on alert as early as Tuesday as the weather system approached.
At one point in last week’s wild weather ride, the National Weather Service in Charleston had issued simultaneous warnings for flooding, high winds and heavy snow.
“Pocahontas County Emergency Management began watching this weather system early on Tuesday afternoon as it approached our area,” said Shawn Dunbrack, the agency’s director. “We began making contact with our potential shelter facilities on Tuesday evening to make sure they were ready to open up, should we have power outages from the forecasted high winds.
“On Wednesday afternoon it became apparent that the heavy rains were going to cause at least some flooding issues for flood prone areas of the county,” Dunbrack said.
At first, the NWS was only forecasting potential flash flooding for small streams, but nothing affecting the Greenbrier River. Local observations to the NWS quickly changed that.
“After providing them with observations from around the county, they issued a River Flood Warning for the Greenbrier River at Marlinton around 10:45 p.m. Wednesday,” said Dunbrack.
Soon after, Dunbrack used the county’s CodeRED reverse 911 system to notify county residents of the impending flooding and advising them to take necessary actions to protect property that might be in flood prone areas. Alerts were also sent out through PCEMA’s Facebook account, as well as Nixle, which provide text alerts of any special information that is important for residents.
“Once the Flood Warning was issued, Marlinton Fire and Rescue personnel began calling businesses in Marlinton and going door to door in flood prone areas of the town to alert residents of the situation,” said Dunbrack.
“The river had a very rapid rise for a few hours, until the temperatures started to cool and the rain came to an end,” Dunbrack continued.
At 11 p.m., the Greenbrier River gauge in Marlinton read four and a half feet. An hour later, that reading was more than seven feet.
“The automated river gauge at Clover Lick provided valuable information to predict how quickly and to what levels we could expect the gauge at Marlinton to read,” Dunbrack added. “By 2:30 a.m. Thursday it was apparent that we would see the predicted 11-foot stage in Marlinton. Flood stage at the Marlinton bridge is 10 feet. Eleven feet causes minor flooding along First Avenue and other low-lying areas of town.”
Knapps Creek also rose quickly, causing street closures along Ninth Street in Marlinton and along West Virginia Route 39 between Huntersville and Marlinton, according to Dunbrack.
Downstream, Stephen Hole Run Road between Buckeye and Seebert had some closures due to the river flooding into the road, said Dunbrack.
In Marlinton, several side streets saw ponding water. Near the West Virginia Route 39 bridge that crosses the river, a flock of ducks took advantage of an impromptu pond that formed in the parking lot of the town’s riverside mini park.
Back River Road in Durbin saw high water, and several other streets in that town and in Bartow were flooded due to poor drainage, said Dunbrack.
The saturated ground, in combination with high winds that accompanied the approaching cold front also caused a few scattered power outages. MonPower crews restored power as quickly as possible.
Thursday morning, the weather quickly changed faces. From spring-like rain and flooding, the cold front shifted conditions to steady snowfall, gusty winds and dangerous driving conditions by 5 a.m. Those conditions helped to slow the Greenbrier’s rise, said Dunbrack, with the river cresting soon after at 11.2 feet in Marlinton.
The prolonged nature of the weather system, meant long hours for Dunbrack, who said he was up for about 26 hours as his office monitored conditions throughout the county and maintained contact with NWS forecasters in Charleston.
While his office had not received any formal reports of property damage from the high water, Dunbrack said he was sure the event brought some flooding and water damage to basements and storage buildings along the river.
The following Saturday’s Groundhog Day prediction was for an early spring. In the meantime, it appears winter is packing in all it can muster, as a string of clipper systems have brought steady snow to the region since Thursday’s change in the weather.