Region bracing for heavy rain
ELKINS — As Hurricane Florence lashes out on coastal towns in the southeastern part of the United States, forecasters are warning that our local region could see heavy rains and potential flooding.
Senior meteorologist Mike Doll with the National Weather Service predicts Randolph County and surrounding areas could see Hurricane Florence’s remnants by Sunday night into Monday.
“There’s potential there could be some impact,” Doll said Thursday. “We’re expecting the rain to be spreading across the Carolinas as Florence moves inland starting (today) and going into the weekend.”
By late Sunday, Doll said the moisture and rain from Florence will begin spreading northward into the local region.
“It could get into the Elkins area as early as Sunday night, although there could be some minor intensity showers that move in Sunday,” he said.
Doll stressed the potential for heavy, steady rain and flooding is more apt to occur Sunday night into early next week.
“Rain could be heavy,” he said. “There is a risk that the rain is heavy enough to cause flooding, so it’s something we’ll need to keep a close eye on.”
As of Thursday morning, Doll said it was not possible to gauge how much rain the area might see.
“Based on what we’re seeing from some of the computer-generated guidance, it’s a possibility you could be looking at several inches of rain,” he said.
Doll said forecasters are expecting heavy rains to hit along the “spine of the Appalachians.”
Aside from heavy rains and the potential of flooding, Doll said he doesn’t think high winds will be a concern for the area.
“I don’t think the winds are going to have a significant impact,” he said. “Certainly there will be some gusty winds reaching 10-20 miles per hour or some higher gusts, but that will not have a big impact, but the bigger concern would be from the rain.”
Doll advised residents should monitor the forecast and take precautions in case of flooding.
“We’ll certainly get more confidence as we head into the weekend, and people should definitely keep an eye on the forecast,” he said.
With the potential threat of flooding, local officials are preparing for the probability of hazardous weather.
During the Upshur County Commission meeting Thursday morning, Upshur County Emergency Manager Brian Shreves advised that Hurricane Florence has downgraded to a category two hurricane.
“Just because it’s a category two does not mean that it’s not going to be devastating,” he said to commissioners. “It’s just slowing down and we’re going to have more rain.”
Shreves advised the Buckhannon River is currently at 5.9 inches, and the flood stage is 23 feet.
“We’ve got quite a bit there, but with that much rain and coming from the other counties (it could flood) if (the rain) hits,” he said.
With the entire state under a “State of Preparedness” issued by Gov. Jim Justice at the beginning of the week, Shreves advised that he has met with several local politicians’ representatives should the area need assistance.
“We’re in constant contact with the state’s EOC (emergency operations center),” he said.
In preparation of flooding, Shreves said he and Buckhannon Fire Chief JB Kimble have discussed the flood protocol for the city of Buckhannon. He has also met with Upshur County EMS and the West Virginia Division of Highways.
“Everyone in the Red Cross is already on board,” Shreves said. “We’ve got the shelters lined up. We’ve got a feeding plan in place. The Parish House has offered all of the food that they have if we need it, which they stated they could feed up to 200 people for three days if we need.”
In the Elkins area, Cindy Hart, Randolph County Office of Emergency Management director, urged individuals to prepare a 72-hour kit in the case of an emergency with Hurricane Florence or any other emergency.
Kits should include at least two gallons of water per person, per day; enough ready-to-eat food to last each family member three days; a battery powered radio; flashlights; spare batteries; resealable plastic bags; washcloths and towels; disposable plates and cutlery; hygiene products; heavy-duty plastic garbage bags; extra clothing and shoes for each person; blankets and/or sleeping bag; personal identification; maps; extra car and house keys; and prescription medication.
“Everybody should have a 72-hour kit at their home,” Hart said. “A 72-hour kit — you can go on FEMA.gov or our website has the information and the line — is a kit that you would put together that you could individualize for your family.”
The Randolph County Office of Emergency Management website can be found at www.rcoem.org.
Hart added there would be shelters available if flooding were to occur, but they would be opened on an “at need” basis in an effort to not exhaust the limited volunteer help. Those in need of a shelter are urged to contact the Randolph County Office of Emergency Management by calling 304-636-2000.
“Shelters have been pre-designated. The shelters will be opened as they are needed. These are volunteer-ran and I don’t want to exhaust my volunteers if I don’t have to,” Hart said. “Volunteer fire departments will take somebody like a ‘right now’ type thing, but they have to let me know because volunteers aren’t at the station all the time. They will provide them protection from the outside until I can get them moved to an overnight shelter.”
Individuals should also attempt to stay in contact with others to both share information and ensure everyone is safe.
“One thing that I’ve asked people to do is stay in contact with at least five people — family, friends, neighbors — then they can pass information along to each other. Maybe they have heard the most updated information, whether they need to evacuate, whether they need to shelter a place or this is where the points of distribution are if they need something,” Hart said. “If they keep (in contact with) those five people they can keep each other safe. For some reason, if you can’t reach somebody, please call 911 so we will know somebody is not safe and we can go help them.”
Hart added it is important not to drive in water, to bring pets inside if at all possible and not allow kids to play near waterways, such as creeks or streams, if water levels rise.
She added people should keep individuals informed through credible sources such as news media, the office of emergency management website and Facebook page, and the National Weather Service.
Additionally, people can receive Nixle updates from the National Weather Service and office of emergency management by texting the number “26241” to “888 777.”
“As far as everything goes, we don’t do anything different today than we did last week. We prepare constantly and we are trying to always educate the public on what steps to take,” Hart said. “We don’t want to put them in a shelter. We want them to be self-sufficient, that way they feel safe and more comfortable in their own homes. That’s why we push the generators and push the 72-hour kits.”