Friday, August 5, 2016

Episode 328 (8-8-16): Flash Flooding, Featuring "Rain in the Valley" by the Steel Wheels

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 8-5-16.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of August 8, 2016.

MUSIC – ~ 9 sec

This week, music by a Harrisonburg, Va.-based band helps deliver a message about flash flooding, one of the most dangerous kinds of weather-related disasters. Have a listen for about 40 seconds.

MUSIC - ~ 42 sec

You’ve been listening to part of “Rain in the Valley,” by The Steel Wheels, from their 2012 album, “Lay Down, Lay Low.” According to the song’s composer, the lyrics were inspired by a friend’s experience of a flash flood in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Fortunately, that friend lived to tell the tale, because flash floods all too frequently have tragic consequences, including very recently in West Virginia in June 2016 and in Ellicott City, Maryland, on July 30, 2016.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, floods in general are the most common weather-related disaster, and flash floods are the most dangerous kind of floods because they combine the destructive power, incredible speed, and unpredictability. Flash floods typically occur when intense rainfall causes rapid water rises in waterways or even in normally dry channels. Some flash-flood risk areas include low spots in urban areas; steep terrain, particularly if recently burned or otherwise unvegetated; recreation areas along streams or rivers; low-water crossings; areas subject to ice jams or rapid snowmelt; and areas behind river levees or below dams, which, unfortunately, sometimes fail.

Wherever you are, if you receive a National Weather Service flash flood watch, be alert to possible flash flooding within the designated watch area; and if you receive a flash flood warning, take necessary precautions at once, because flash flooding has been reported or is imminent. Among the most important precautions are the following: if you receive a warning, head for higher ground; stay away from floodwaters; avoid walking or driving through flowing water; if water is rising around your vehicle, get out of the car and move to higher ground; and avoid camping or parking along streams or rivers during the warning period.

More details on flash floods or other floods are available from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, online at

Thanks to The Steel Wheels for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with a few more seconds of “Rain in the Valley.”

MUSIC - ~ 15 sec


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463. Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show. In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This week’s music, “Rain in the Valley,” written by Trent Wagler, is from The Steel Wheels’ 2012 album, “Lay Down, Lay Low,” used with permission. More information about The Steel Wheels is available online at on the song’s background was taken from Songfacts, “Rain in the Valley by The Steel Wheels,” undated, online at


Above: Floods caused the highest number of weather-related fatalities in the United States in 2015, and the second-highest number over the past 30 years. Image from National Weather Service/Office of Climate, Water, and Weather Services, “Natural Hazard Statistics,” online at

 An example of how quickly small streams can rise and fall. Upper: Stroubles Creek after heavy rain on the Virginia Tech campus, September 29, 2015, 12:30 p.m. Lower: The same stream on September 30, 2015, 9:30 a.m.

A sample of road signs warning motorists not to drive through flooded roadways.  Upper and middle: along Passage Creek in Fort Valley in Shenandoah County, Va., Aug. 22, 2016; lower: along Duck Pond Drive before the Stroubles Creek crossing on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Sep. 13, 2016.


[An excerpt from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Severe Storms Laboratory, “Severe Weather 101: Floods,” online at]

Flood Basics

Flooding is an overflowing of water onto land that is normally dry. Floods can happen during heavy rains, when ocean waves come on shore, when snow melts too fast, or when dams or levees break. Flooding may happen with only a few inches of water, or it may cover a house to the rooftop. They can occur quickly or over a long period and may last days, weeks, or longer. Floods are the most common and widespread of all weather-related natural disasters.

Flash floods are the most dangerous kind of floods, because they combine the destructive power of a flood with incredible speed and unpredictability. Flash floods occur when excessive water fills normally dry creeks or river beds along with currently flowing creeks and rivers, causing rapid rises of water in a short amount of time. They can happen with little or no warning.

Flooding occurs in every U.S. state and territory, and is a threat experienced anywhere in the world that receives rain. In the U.S. floods kill more people each year than tornadoes, hurricanes, or lightning.

What areas are at risk from flash floods?

Densely populated areas are at a high risk for flash floods. The construction of buildings, highways, driveways, and parking lots increases runoff by reducing the amount of rain absorbed by the ground. This runoff increases the flash flood potential.

Sometimes, streams through cities and towns are routed underground into storm drains. During heavy rain, the storm drains can become overwhelmed and flood roads and buildings. Low spots, such as underpasses, underground parking garages, and basements can become death traps.

Areas near rivers are at risk from flash floods. Embankments, known as levees, are often built along rivers and are used to prevent high water from flooding bordering land. In 1993, many levees failed along the Mississippi River, resulting in devastating flash floods. The city of New Orleans experienced massive devastating flooding days after Hurricane Katrina came onshore in 2005 due to the failure of levees designed to protect the city.

Dam failures can send a sudden destructive wall of water downstream. In 1889 a dam break upstream from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, released a 30-40 foot wall of water that killed 2200 people within minutes.

Mountains and steep hills produce rapid runoff, which causes streams to rise quickly. Rocks and clay soils do not allow much water to infiltrate the ground. Saturated soil also can lead rapidly to flash flooding. Vacationing or recreating along streams or rivers can be a risk if there are thunderstorms in the area. A creek only 6 inches deep in mountainous areas can swell to a 10-foot deep raging river in less than an hour if a thunderstorm lingers over an area for an extended period of time.

Very intense rainfall can produce flooding even on dry soil. In the West, most canyons, small streams and dry arroyos are not easily recognizable as a source of danger. A wall of water 10-15 feet high can scour a canyon suddenly.

Additional high-risk locations include low water crossings, recent burn areas in mountains, and urban areas from pavement and roofs which concentrate rainfall runoff.

Ice jams and snowmelt can help cause flash floods.


Used for Audio

Tom DiLiberto, Thousand-year' downpour led to deadly West Virginia floods, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Web site, 7/8/16.

Jeff Halverson, This is how an ‘off-the-charts’ flood ravaged Ellicott City, Washington Post, 8/1/16. The item includes a 1 min./25 sec. video, “How a flash flood occurs and what you should do if caught in one,” by Clarita Jimenez.

American Red Cross, “Flood Safety,” online at; or contact your local chapter (listed in your local phone directory).

Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Floods,” online at

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Severe Storms Laboratory, “Severe Weather 101: Floods,” online at

National Weather Service, “Flood Safety,” online at

National Weather Service/Office of Climate, Water, and Weather Services, “Natural Hazard Statistics,” online at

National Weather Service/Sterling, Va., Forecast Office, “Ellicott City Historic Rain and Flash Flood-July 30, 2016,” online at

Jason Samenow, “West Virginia flood was ‘one in a thousand year event,’ Weather Service says; more heavy rain forecast,” Washington Post, 6/27/16.

Virginia Department of Emergency Management, “Floods,” online at

West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Flood Update from WVDHSEM Tuesday Morning, June 28, 2016.

For More Information about Severe Weather Events

Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Natural Disasters,” online at

FloodList, online at This Web site reports news of floods around the world; see for a description of the site’s purpose, funding, and staff.

National Flood Insurance Program, online at This site includes a tool for determining a given property’s financial flood risk.

National Weather Service, “Weather Safety,” online at

National Weather Service/Storm Prediction Center, online at

Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), “Ready Virginia” Web site, online at; or contact VDEM at (804) 897-6500 or

Virginia Water Central News Grouper posts on news, events, and information resources relevant to severe weather, online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (

Previous episodes on flash flooding are Episode 272, 6/29/15 (on flash floods centered in Madison County, Va., in June 1995) and Episode 192 (12/16/13) (on the Rockfish River in Nelson County, Va., in 1969). A previous episode on historic river flood levels is Episode 86, 10/31/11.

A previous episode on National Weather Service watches and warnings is Episode 102, 4-91-12.

For other episodes on weather and disaster preparedness, see the Weather/Natural Disasters topic category in the Index.


This episode may help with the following Virginia’s 2010 Science Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Interrelationships in Earth/Space Systems Theme
4.6 – weather conditions, phenomena, and measurements.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; and water monitoring.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 - influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia.
ES.12 – weather and climate.

Biology Course
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2008 Social Studies SOLs:

Civics and Economics Course
CE.9 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.6 - past and present trends in human migration and cultural interaction as influenced by social, economic, political, and environmental factors.

Government Course
GOVT.9 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2010 English SOLs:

Reading Theme
10.4 (imagery and other literary devices)
9.4 (imagery and other literary devices)
11.4 (imagery and figures of speech)

The episode may also help with Virginia 2013 Music SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at