West Virginia task force preparing for storm impact
CHARLESTON - Though Hurricane Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm Friday evening, preparations were continuing in West Virginia to mitigate any effects the storm may have on the Mountain State as it moves inland off the Carolina coast.
Gov. Jim Justice was briefed by officials Friday at the West Virginia National Guard’s Joint Operations Center on the efforts the state is undergoing to prepare for the rain that is still headed this way, along with any other related weather events.
As of Friday, the National Weather Service in Charleston was predicting 2 to 4 inches of rain across most of West Virginia, with potential for heavier rains in the southern and eastern part of the state depending on the storm’s path. The rain is expected to begin in southern West Virginia as early as Saturday night. Impacts including heavy rain, tornadoes and gusty wind are predicted to spread from south to north Sunday into Monday.
The storm itself will begin to turn north Saturday and will make its way through eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, eventually moving into the Mid-Ohio Valley.
Because of recent heavy rain, soil moisture is already high and could contribute to flooding. Flooding concerns include flash flooding and river flooding.
The state is also at an elevated risk for tornadoes thanks to Florence’s remnant low-level circulation. There is a limited risk for gusty winds, though gusts up to 40 mph will be possible. The National Weather Service said winds will be higher in the mountains.
More than 10 state organizations are working together to prepare for the storm, from the National Guard to the Red Cross. West Virginia is currently under a State of Preparedness, which allows the governor to mobilize necessary resources in advance of a predicted severe weather event or other large-scale threats.
“All of your state agencies have been working diligently since last week when Hurricane Gordon came up the western side of the state to be prepared for anything that happens,” said Jimmy Gianato, director of the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, during Friday’s briefing. “We are working with FEMA on the national response, and hopefully this will miss us and we will be able to provide some support to the other states. But as we continue to prepare, we wanted to stand up early enough that we had the opportunity to find any issues we had and be prepared for all possible scenarios as we move into this event.”
Preparations include preparing potential shelters and supplying them, beginning communication lines with county emergency management systems and preparing to monitor any effects by land and aircraft.
It is the task force’s first venture using the Joint Operations Center, said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer. He said they are in the process of acquiring a $5 million grant from FEMA to expand the center and they also hope to move the National Weather Service into the building.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, in a news release urged all West Virginians to remain vigilant as the storm progresses toward the state. He also called upon the governor and Department of Transportation Secretary Tom Smith to lift the toll on the turnpike to allow for the safe and free flow of traffic as people escape the storm.
“This is certainly an extreme circumstance, and we’ve seen numerous reports of traffic backups of several miles, which can create dangerous situations for first responders who may need to move quickly,” Carmichael said. “I hope Gov. Justice will consider lifting the tolls when the situation calls for it until this storm passes through our state to make sure nobody finds themselves in an unfortunate situation because of a traffic jam.”
Several West Virginia hotels, including all the state parks, are offering discounts to hurricane evacuees. As of Thursday, the discount code for the state parks had been used more than 60 times.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.