Experts Explain Why West Virginia is Prone to Flash Flooding

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The Wild and Wonderful topography of West Virginia is what makes it so beautiful, but it also can be dangerous.  The flooding this past June is a perfect example of that.  An expert from West Virginia University said studies show the landscape of the state makes it prone to flash flooding.

“Because of the steepness and the rugged topography, we have very rapid run off of rainfall. When it does rain, it gets to the streams very quickly, the streams are steep, they’re narrow,” continued Dr. Steve Kite. “There is a lot of development along the stream beds, so water flows downstream very quickly

We often talk about flood recurrence in terms of years. Dr. Steve Kite, a professor in the WVU Geology and Geography Department said this can often be misleading.

“It’s really stretching to call anything a thousand year flood because we only have at most a couple hundred years of record on our streams,” Kite said. “I think people would better understand in the situation, if we’d say a one percent chance in a year flood.”

Kite says this is why it’s a gamble to build homes and developments on flood plains.

“Most of the time we think of the stream being what we see today. Where the water is and where the gravel is next to it. That’s part of the river too, that’s the channel,” Kite explained. “Sometimes, however, we have a really big flood event and water gets way out of the channel. I’m standing here on Deckers Creek and the water would have been way over my head. That was from a four inch rainfall here in Monongalia County.”

Since West Virginia’s devastating June floods, Maryland, Lousianna, Pennsylvania, and Colorado have all had a State of Emergency declared because of flooding.

Experts say this trend could continue, or even get worse.

“Water sheds are changing, and although not everyone believes it, climates are changing. We’re likely to see more severe floods in the future as these developments happen in the watersheds. What has been in the past a 100 year flood, may come more often.”

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