Benchmarks due for update

Topography changes apparent; new crest coming in days

A volunteer loads sandbags downtown Thursday afternoon.

Local officials say flood benchmarks from the Valley’s 2004 and 2005 floods should not be depended upon this weekend.

“It’s been 14 years and we’ve had additions like Walgreens, Taco Bell and Qdoba so the topography has changed a lot since the last major flood,” said Carrie Ankrom, Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce president. “Benchmarks need to be updated.”

After last weekend’s flood, which crested at 37.94 feet Sunday, reports from property owners across Marietta have shown a 1-to-2-foot change in when water entered their buildings than from 2004, with water coming in at a lower river level.

“We are in the process of recording new benchmarks with the new duckbill systems and changes in development to assist in city preparations for future events. We believe through a series of technological advances some of the benchmarks are now outdated,” said Marietta Safety-Service Director Jonathan Hupp. “Now’s not the time to be complacent, so if the professionals say you’re now going to have high water at 37 feet instead of 39 you need to have your plan, know your number and be vigilant.”

Meteorologist Tom Mazza out of the National Weather Service Charleston, W.Va., office explained Thursday that part of what makes the change in high water benchmarks so drastic is the move of the Ohio River gauge from farther downstream (its location in 2004) to the current position at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers.

“So what you see (on land) at the 35-foot flood stage may be different than what you saw 10 years ago,” he said.

Mazza also explained that projected regional rainfall across the eastern portion of Ohio, western Pennsylvania and northwestern West Virginia contributes to the NWS official forecast and the experimental longer-range forecast models published by the North American Ensemble Forecast System and the Global Ensemble Forecast System.

“We run many models to have a range of possibilities,” he said. “For example, we predict with the official forecast that eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania are to see between 3.25 and 3.5 inches of rain but the GEFS is showing 4.8 inches.”

He said the NAEFS and GEFS predictions have a wider range of possible water levels because they look further out.

“As time passes these forecasts tend to converge though, you can see the NAEFS and GEFS predictions come down as we get closer to the time, and the official forecast can also go up,” he said, noting a more accurate 48-hour window with the official forecast.

But local rainfall and topographic changes aren’t the only contributing factors, said NWS Hydrologist John Sikora.

“There’s a lot that goes into it, including rain that had previously fallen (how saturated the ground already is blocking soil absorption), forecast precipitation and how much and how fast water is flowing downstream from the tributaries into the Muskingum and Ohio and the flow rates in those rivers themselves,” he explained.

Sikora said what is happening upstream around Pittsburgh could also affect what happens in Marietta.

“That’s what happened the last time with the tropical storms Francis and Ivan, the bulk of the rain fell in Pennsylvania and came down river,” he said. “But this time around we’re getting rain pretty uniform across the region so it will depend on how fast and where the rain falls. Local runoff can cause the local waters to rise impacting small streams and creeks that run into these rivers.”

To prepare for this weekend’s forecast levels-flood stage in Marietta and McConnelsville by 7 p.m. Saturday-some school districts and city officials are planning to have rolling calls for closures.

Lloyd Booth, Fort Frye Local board of education member, said the district’s schools would remain closed due to access on local roads. Brian Rentsch, superintendent of Frontier Local Schools, said the judgment call for closing schools would be made at the latest by 5 a.m. each school day.

“I work with our transportation coordinator and just like we have done for snow, we make the all-call and post changes on the Frontier High School Facebook page and district website,” said Rentsch. “Last weekend there was flooding to the concession stand under the (high school) bleachers but we had nothing in either elementary school. (Thursday) we had several individuals pulling the coolers and pop machines out of the concession stand to higher ground… I’m expecting our facilities to be safe this weekend because they are at higher elevations.”

Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews said those traveling through Marietta should adhere to road closure signs and may be ticketed if found driving in those locations.

“When you see the sign that a road is closed that’s what it means,” he said. “It doesn’t take much water to stop your engine.”

Marietta Main Street Executive Director Cristie Thomas added that unless drivers are downtown to shop, eat or volunteer aid, they ask people to not use downtown roads as a thoroughfare.

“The majority of businesses downtown are moving out their inventory tonight or (Friday) so it’s not safe for volunteers or that inventory if people are driving through to sightsee or get to their destinations,” she said.

But for those willing to help, she added, volunteer efforts will continue to be coordinated through the Marietta Main Street Facebook page.

“We are still having requests for volunteers as businesses coordinate trucks to get out their wares,” she said. “Folks can follow Facebook or even if they just want to go door to door asking how they can help that would be great.”

The mayor also noted that many homes along Front Street and where lower ground is throughout town may need help as water rises. He was at the Parking Partners lot Thursday as the city delivered 1,000 sandbags purchased for the community by the city and three dump truck loads of sand. Ankrom said the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce also purchased 1,000 bags as did Barb Close, community president of the Marietta branch of Huntington Bank.

“And American Producers already donated 700 bags last weekend and has an additional 6,000 bags (for purchase) in stock,” Ankrom added. “As more bags are needed at the lot we’ll bring ours down and so will Huntington Bank.”

As of Thursday, the Ohio River was forecast to crest Monday at 1 p.m. at 41.5 feet, which could be comparable to 43.5 feet in the past due to the outdated benchmarks. The Muskingum River at Beverly was forecast to crest at 7 p.m. Sunday at 32.8 feet and Sunday at 1 p.m. at 13.2 feet in McConnelsville.

Duck Creek did not have a projected crest as of Thursday evening but had already risen above flood stage, 12 feet, by 11 a.m. and was still rising.

How to help

≤ Volunteers are being coordinated through Marietta Main Street throughout the weekend and into next week. Follow the organization’s pinned Facebook post for updated needs throughout that time:

≤ Donations for flood clean up and disaster relief can be made to the Marietta Community Foundation through the Washington County Disaster Relief Fund.

≤ To donate to this fund, include “Disaster Relief” as a note on your check or when making an online donation at the following link:

Source: Marietta City Administration, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, National Weather Service, Marietta Main Street and Memorial Health System.


≤ Updated Ohio River levels from the official National Weather Service forecast for Marietta can be found here:

≤ Updated Muskingum River levels from the official National Weather Service forecast for Beverly can be found here:

≤ Updated Muskingum River levels from the official National Weather Service forecast for McConnelsville can be found here:

≤ Updated Duck Creek water levels from the official National Weather Service forecast for Whipple can be found here:

≤ County road closures can be found here:

≤ The GoBus bus stop normally at the Armory moved to the Kmart parking lot today, Saturday and Sunday.

≤ Memorial Health System’s Wayne Street campus will be closed from noon today through at least end of business Monday.

≤ Anyone interested in a clean-up kit or flood relief support can contact the Washington County Emergency Management Agency by calling 740-373-5613.