Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Mountain State

Since this is the third day in a row that I'm writing about the floods in West Virginia, you can tell that they have been on my mind a lot. Today, I'm going to explain a little bit about the topography of West Virginia and how it affects the flooding. This may help with some of the confusion about what is going on.

WV Hills, A stop on the way to visit my mother last Thanksgiving

One of West Virginia's nicknames is The Mountain State. It was also called Little Switzerland by the early settlers. This was because almost the entire state is filled with hills and mountains. In the eastern part of the state are the long ridges and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains and in the western part of the state are hills and valleys (hollows/hollers) from erosional relief on the Appalachian Plateau. What that means is that you are usually on top of a hill or in a narrow valley. There is not much in between.

An example of this was when they were going to build a new high school in my county, there was only one site that had enough flat land to build the school. Like I said, it's called the Mountain State for a reason.

So when there is rain, there is no where for it to go except to be channeled between the hills. And when there is a lot of rain in a short amount of time, it is more than the little streams and valleys can handle so there is a flash flood.

The football field of my high school. Notice the goal posts.
I had an experience with a flash flood once that made a big impression on me. One afternoon we were having a picnic at my grandmother's house.  Her house was built on the flood plain (flat spot) along a little creek surrounded by hills. The creek was not more than a few feet across in some places and was dry in some places. Well a summer afternoon thunderstorm sprung up and we scrambled to get everything put away and out of the rain. In the 10 to 15 minutes we were cleaning up, the little creek overflowed with fast, roaring water onto the road and we almost didn't make it out. It was scary and amazing at the same time. I truly understood what a flash flood was after that.

Flash flooding is what has been happening recently over much of West Virginia as most little streams and rivers have been overwhelmed by the large amount of rain there was over a short amount of time. While some areas were hit worse than others, most of the state and its ubiquitous small streams flooded. That's why 44/55 counties were declared disaster areas.

There is my very simplistic view of what's been going on, but I hope it makes sense and clears up a little of the confusion that is not being helped by the media.

It's raining in my hometown right now. I hope there is not more flooding to come.