NWS: “Potentially catastrophic flooding” in Appalachia




It’s been nearly twenty-nine-years to the day since the Appalachian Region was faced with the immediate dangers of a hurricane, as Hurricane Hugo tore through South Carolina on a northbound rampage that seemed to directly follow the Appalachian Trail for hundreds of miles.

“Every storm is different,” repeat the many meteorologists when asked how Florence  compares to the infamous Hugo, which is still remembered in the mountains of Southwest Virginia and Western Carolina and is talked about on a regular basis.

In many ways, Hurricane Florence is proving to be absolutely nothing like Hugo, Hugo was a Category 5 storm, whereas this hurricane has been downgraded to a Category 2.

On the hand, however, within 24-hours of making landfall in the United States, Hurricane Hugo had already entered Canada and was fizzling out as it approached the southern coast of Greenland — whereas Hurricane Florence is creeping along the coast at 17 mph and is expected to slow even further once making landfall; effectively stalling over the American Southeast and in the process, inundating coastal areas with several feet of rainfall.

While the rest of the nation is talking about coastal flooding and storm surges, it is critical for residents of the Appalachian region to understand that with the ground already heavily saturated in many places, an additional 4-6inches of rainfall with localized rainfall totaling 10-inches can prove catastrophic.

The latest National Weather Service forecasts have the eye of the storm reaching the North Carolina coast, just north of Myrtle Beach Friday afternoon and then moving slightly southwestward toward Columbia, South Carolina, by early Sunday morning, where by this time it will be downgraded to a tropical depression.

Meteorologists say the storm will then move west to the Georgia-South Carolina stateline before moving northward into the Appalachian Mountains Sunday night into Monday afternoon.

According to the latest trajectory, the center of the storm will pass through Asheville, then just east of Knoxville, through Lee County, Virginia, and then through Eastern Kentucky; however the cone of probable path of the storm includes virtually all of Kentucky, West Virginia, East Tennessee and western Virginia.

By the time the storm reaches the Appalachian region wind speeds are not expected to exceed 39 mph; however, the great concern for the region will come Sunday through Tuesday as the system approaches from the southwest. An extended period of heavy to very heavy rainfall is expected with 4-6 or more inches of rain expected across much of the area, especially along and west of the Blue Ridge. Local rainfall amounts could be even greater upwards of 10 inches or more in spots.

The National Weather Service has issued the following statement for areas of West Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, East Tennessee, and Western North Carolina:

“Extensive and widespread significant, potentially catastrophic flooding remains possible, especially across the western mountainous steep terrain portions of the forecast area. It should also be noted that while winds associated with the remnants of Florence by the time it reaches our forecast area are expected to remain below tropical force, even 20 to 30 mph winds with higher gusts combined with the very saturated ground from the heavy rainfall will result in greater than normal amounts of downed trees and power lines.

“Widespread power outages could result and last for an extended period of time due to the inclement weather conditions. Finally, there is a non-zero potential for tropical storm-related tornadoes either Sunday or Monday as the northeast quadrant of the remnants of Florence are progged to move over our forecast area. It is imperative that all residents of the forecast area continue to closely monitor the progress of Hurricane Florence and remain abreast of the latest forecasts, watches, and warnings issued over the next several days. If you live in a normally flood prone area or next to creeks, streams, and rivers, especially across the Appalachians, take time to put together an emergency plan should you need to evacuate before flooding begins. Please continue to monitor the latest forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and local National Weather Service forecast offices over the next several days.”

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