Torrential rainfall poured over the High Country June 7-9 weekend, flooding roadways and swelling waterways to near-record highs across Ashe County.
Official National Weather Service accumulation totals list about 7.5 inches of rainfall at weather observer locations two miles east of Jefferson and near Laurel Springs, but many locations received a foot or more of rainfall, according to reports from Ashe Post & Times readers and NCDOT.
The rain gauge at the U.S. 221 expansion project showed between 11 and 12 inches of accumulation from the rain Saturday and Sunday, June 8 and 9, According to NCDOT Division Construction Engineer Trent Beaver.
Beaver said the expanding section of U.S. 221 between South Fork New River and the junction of N.C. 194 experienced minor damage due to the heavy rainfall. The project contractors worked Saturday and Sunday keeping U.S. 221 and connected side roads clear of water and debris, and workers are in the process of repairing shoulders and maintaining erosion control measures that were damaged by the enormous volume of runoff, according to Beaver.
Exceptional rainfall caused the South Fork New River near Jefferson to swell to its seventh highest crest since water levels were first measured in 1925, according to NWS Meteorologist Mike Sporer.
Some 5,556 Blue Ridge Energy customers in four counties were affected by power outages brought on by the flooding, including 2,939 who were at one point without power due to 25 damaged locations in Ashe County, according to BRE Director of Public Relations Renee Whitener.
“Although line crews used ATVs to reach some areas of damage, washed out roads and flooding made some areas totally inaccessible and hampered restoration,” Whitener said in an email.
Watauga County experienced extensive rainfall during the weekend, with areas such as Todd and Valle Crucis experiencing the heaviest impacts.
According to the National Weather Service Blacksburg meteorologist Mike Sporer, reports from Watauga County generally measured 7 to 9 inches of rain, with localized reports of over a foot in some areas, especially eastern Watauga County. The official reporter from Boone, located at the Boone Water Treatment Plant, recorded 9.41 inches of rain for the duration of the storm.
The several-day weather event was caused by a stagnant weather pattern that was produced by a deep upper-level low-pressure system “squeezing” all the precipitation into the region, as Sporer described it.
The eastern part of Watauga County, with steep mountain inclines and some places reaching 3,500 feet above sea level, was hit the hardest. Sporer said the terrain of the area contributed to the high localized totals due to “upslope conditions,” a condition where rain is pushed by winds up against the mountain.
Watauga Fire Marshal Taylor Marsh said the county received calls for two water rescue situations in the areas of Clark’s Creek Road and Watauga River Road. People in both of these calls were able to self-rescue, Marsh said.
A section in the 7000 block of Elk Creek Road was proposed to be closed for around a week — or maybe longer — after what N.C. Department of Transportation’s Kevin Whittington classified as a “major” mudslide occurred on June 10.
Several Watauga County Schools facilities were affected by the weekend storms. Superintendent Scott Elliott said three schools experienced electrical issues that knocked out phone services on June 10. Parkway School also had lost power to the well house and outside mobile units; however, Elliott said the school had enough pressure in the well reservoir to keep the water pumping until Blue Ridge Energy could replace a broken underground power line.
The most significant flood-related problems took place at Valle Crucis School after Dutch Creek crested its banks and flowed onto the school property, Elliott said. The Valle Crucis School parking lots, playground and property behind the school were under water.
Despite the weather event, Sporer said the High Country region is currently in a normal weather phase, according to three-month outlooks.
“There are no large-scale signals for prolonged wetness,” Sporer said, saying the recent storm system was not indicative of long-term weather patterns.
The “fairly normal” conditions, as Sporer described the current state, are a recent change that occurred in the last few months. This means that citizens likely won’t see the same level of precipitation that resulted in 2018 becoming the wettest year in NWS recorded history with 93.42 inches of rain. This amount shattered the previous recorded record of 74.83 set in 2013.