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November 1985 Election Day Floods - "Killer Floods of West Virginia"

This flood event was the costliest and most deadly in the history of West Virginia and Virginia. The event resulted in part as a result of the remnants of Hurricane Juan, along with a low pressure system that formed on November 3rd, then stalled over the area two days later before heading out to sea and dissipating.

In Virginia, rainfall prior to the flood event totaled more than 17 and a half inches. An additional 19+ inches fell in northern locations such as Montebello. The James and Roanoke Rivers in Virginia flooded (42.15 feet along the James, 23.45 feet along the Roanoke), prompting multiple rescues and evacuations. As a result, Richmond and Roanoke were the worst-hit cities by this disaster. Virginia sustained $753 million in damages, along with 22 reported fatalities. In West Virginia, however, the devastation was much worse. The flooding was worst along the Monongahela and Potomac rivers/basins, particularly the Cheat River, which crested at 36.9 feet in places. More than 13,000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Damages in the state of West Virginia totaled $700 million, the costliest in West Virginia history, and there were 38 reported fatalities. 29 counties in West Virginia were declared disaster areas. Another 40 counties in Virginia were as well.

Had this event been the direct result of a hurricane, it would have ranked among the costliest, at number four, as damages across West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland (the first two being the worst hit) totaled $1.4 billion and the floods resulted in 62 deaths overall. The disaster spurred sweeping changes in warning practices by National Weather Service and the government of the states of Virginia and West Virginia. National Weather Service enhanced its radar technology and computer models to better forecast future flood events and improved communications through restructuring in both Virginia and West Virginia. In addition, many of the affected counties of West Virginia were assigned a full-time Emergency Management director (they did not have one previously or had a part-time EM director) and were provided 24-hour radio communications capability in ALL previously affected counties by 1987.

This weather event was also 'written' into my family history, along with the "Storm of the Century" of 1993 and the North American Blizzard of 1996 (see my posts for more info). When this disaster was occurring, my paternal uncle (my father's brother) was assisting with emergency communications as an amateur radio operator in the 'war room' in the basement of the Capitol building in Charleston, WV. He worked directly with the lieutenant governor of West Virginia and gave up-to-date information regarding flooding conditions, evacuations, and even the status of state police officers who had been in the field at the time of the disaster when communications had gone down. At the same time, my mother, who had graduated high school earlier that year, knew people in many of the areas affected by the floods and kept in contact with them when it was safe to do so during and after the event.
I remember this event. I was 4 years old, and my uncle took me to the old Lee Bridge to look at the flooding. I still remember being able to see Shockoe and lower Richmond underwater, with the water running over several bridges, almost up over the rail bridges.