From wintry weather, to flooding, as well as severe thunderstorms – all types of weather are seen in our region.
Recent weather disasters have cost millions of dollars in damage, both to residents of the area as well as to local infrastructure.
Dr. Kevin Law, the West Virginia State Climatologist and professor at Marshall University says that flash flooding in the mountain state is the result of a few geographic conditions.
LEARN MORE ABOUT WEATHER: Dr. Law teaches meteorology at Marshall University. Learn more about classes offered here.
“Yes our mountains are not very tall, but they are steep. And most of our population lives in the valley and bottoms, so we are susceptible to flash flooding. And then you compound that with the soil types – our particular soils have rapid runoff and they do not absorb water well, so it just runs off very quickly.”
Phil Moye, with American Electric Power says a special protocol is in place in times of severe weather to minimize impacts.
INTERACTIVE MAP: West Virginia AEP Outage Map
“We constantly monitor the weather, and anytime we see an event that could cause problems to our infrastructure, we start meeting to plan for it, and get ahead of it in order to have a plan in place by the time the storm actually hits.”
In particular, the June 29th, 2012 derecho was caused significant damage to the electric infrastructure in our region, with at one point nearly 90 percent of electric customers in the Mountain State left in the dark. Companies like AEP use events like this to build an even more efficient method in the future for when Mother Nature strikes.
“One of the things we did after the derecho was change up the way we approach vegetation management. We’ve moved to a vegetation management program where every four years, we clear each of our circuits end to end. And that ensures that the right-of-ways not only stay clear of vegetation, but is also easier to get to when you have a big storm like a derecho,” remarks Moye.
Though the Mountain State sees a variety of severe weather, Dr. Law says flooding is the deadliest.
“Well it tops with flash flooding, that’s by far and away our worst hazard we have to worry about.”
RELATED STORY: Rebuilding and Healing After the 2016 Flood
But perhaps the type of storm causing the most fear to our region are derechos. And although the term derecho didn’t become common vocabulary in the region following the 2012 storm, derechos are more common than you might think.
“We live in an area where we probably get about one derecho about every couple of years, but not usually the severity like we saw back in 2012. That kind of magnitude we are talking about an every 20 year event,” says Dr. Law.
RELATED STORY: Facts About Derechos
Significant weather in our region is inevitable, but the key to dodging its impacts? Preparation, including knowing the difference between a severe weather watch and warning.
“A watch means that conditions are favorable – nothing that has been spotted yet, but a warning means that those conditions have been spotted, so if you see a severe thunderstorm warning or a tornado warning, that’s when you really need to be prepared,” remarks Dr. Law.
FULL LIST: Watches an Warnings Definitions
New technology being utilized by agencies such as the National Weather Service aim to help save lives.
“It allows us to get much better rainfall estimates from our radar, plus we are actually able to see tornadoes better when they happen. It also allows people more time to prepare. It allows emergency management officials to get resources into place whenever, say, a major flood happens,” reports National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Tony England, a veteran forecaster of fifteen years.
With the advent of new technologies in this day and age, there are a multitude of ways of staying up to date with all of Mother Nature’s curve balls.
FORECAST: Get your StormTracker 13 forecast updated daily here.
“Make sure you have your cell phones activated for severe weather alerts from the National Weather Service – that’s probably one of the most important things you can do. Also, the apps you can include on your smartphone, like the National Weather Service app, or your favorite tv station app like WOWK activated on your cell phones,” states Dr. Law.
RELATED STORY: Lessons Learned in the Years After Destructive Derecho
And of course, you can download the StormTracker 13 app. Get your latest watches, warnings, even the radar imagery right at the push of a button on your phone. Download it completely free from the Apple Store or Google Play.
Joe Fitzwater is the weekend meteorologist for WOWK. From the region, his passion for severe weather has raged since his childhood years. You can follow Joe’s latest weather commentary and analysis on Facebook and on Twitter.