CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As the effects of Hurricane Florence started showing themselves Thursday along the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina, storm response preparations continued in West Virginia ahead of what could be a lot of rain into next week.
“The latest tracks show that it looks like it’s going to come over a good part of West Virginia, but the track is pretty wide so the storm could go anywhere from Cincinnati to Washington, D.C., ” said Jimmy Gianato, director of the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security.
The National Weather Service provided this update on Thursday:
“The potential continues to exist for significant rainfall to return to our region early next week. However, the path of Florence and, hence, where the heaviest rains may occur still remains uncertain.”
Mid-Thursday #Florence update for our neck of the woods: inland track remains uncertain, with big implications for our area. Heavy rain, tornadoes, and gusty winds are all on the table should the circulation track west of the Appalachians, mainly Sun>Mon. #ohwx #kywx #vawx #wvwx pic.twitter.com/FouuLOZYci
— NWS Charleston, WV (@NWSCharlestonWV) September 13, 2018
The West Virginia Emergency Operations Center, bringing together government representatives, non-profits and other organizations for storm response in cooperation with the West Virginia National Guard’s Joint Operations Center, remained activated Thursday.
Florence marked the first time for such on-site coordination in one facility, according to state officials.
“It’s a good thing,” Gianato said. “It allows for better coordination, quicker coordination and allows our response to be better coordinated between all the agencies.”
Daily 2 p.m. briefings on Hurricane Florence were being organized there involving the National Weather Service and local county emergency managers.
Appalachian Power officials were preparing for heavy rain and high wind gusts out of Florence throughout its service areas, especially in southwestern Virginia.
Gusts of 40 to 45 miles per hour were possible, company officials indicated, along with 2 to 4 in. or more of rain depending on location.
Plans were in place to move employees and contractors into areas likely to experience damage and outages from the hurricane with workers available out of Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.
“Historically, we’ve reliably helped other utilities when they need help and we want to be in a position to do that with this storm, but we want to make sure that our own service territory is taken care of first,” said Phil Moye, spokesperson for Appalachian Power.
He told MetroNews they were particularly concerned about possible rainfall totals for southwestern Virginia.
On Thursday morning, Florence was a Category 2 hurricane with sustained wind speeds of 110 mph. It was moving slower as it neared the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina.
Landfall was projected for Friday.
As of Thursday morning, projections indicated a possible inland track for Florence and acceleration into the southern Appalachians overnight Sunday into Monday, according to meteorologists with the Charleston National Weather Service office.
Much like the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon that dumped rain on the Mountain State earlier in September, Florence was expected to be a rainmaker — putting down a projected average of two to four inches of rain with higher amounts in local locations.
By early Tuesday, forecasts showed the storm and its rain could potentially be in the Mid-Ohio Valley and Upper Ohio Valley Region, roughly the U.S. Route 50 Corridor with the largest rain totals expected in the highest elevations.
“Our biggest concern would be for the storm to come up and dump a lot of water in either the Southern Coalfields or the Ohio Valley which is already at or near flood stages in a lot of areas,” Gianato said.
Next Wednesday or Thursday, what’s left of Florence may be moving to the north of the Mountain State.
The American Red Cross West Virginia Region had no emergency shelters open in the Mountain State as of the morning on Sept. 13.
To help with the Hurricane Florence response, training for volunteers was being planned through the weekend at the regional office in Kanawha County covering topics that included disaster assessment.
As for power, “We have been looking at this storm, like most people, a good part of this week and we’ve been making pretty strong efforts to plan for it,” Moye said.
“Whatever rain and wind we might get in our service territory, we do have people in place that are ready to move in, respond and get those outages taken care of quickly.”