Richmond closes floodwall gates as James River rises
Precaution taken for first time since 1990s as area waterways overflow
As the James River rises in the wake of two days of heavy rain, the city of Richmond has closed two floodwall gates as a precaution for the first time since the 1990s.
A crest of 17.1 feet is projected for the City Locks gauge on Friday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service forecast from Thursday. If that happens, it would be the highest level since 2003 and reach several feet higher than the most recent flood in late October.
Richmond’s Department of Public Utilities shut two floodwall barriers on Thursday. At midday, the Dock Street section was closed to prevent the James from entering Shockoe Bottom. The Brander Street portion separating Manchester from the wastewater treatment plant and Ancarrow’s Landing was closed in late afternoon.
Raindrops pelted Virginia like a prolonged summer storm from Wednesday morning to Thursday afternoon as tropical warmth from the south met with a cold front slowly advancing eastward.
The atmosphere over the Carolinas and Virginia contained near-record amounts of moisture for so late in the year, an indirect effect of Tropical Storm Eta’s zigzagging trek around Florida.
Two days of downpours forced creeks onto numerous
roads and filled most of the state’s rivers.
Workers in almost every corner of Virginia were kept busy with reports of high water, and blocked roads kept some schools either closed or in virtualonly mode from the Potomac River to the North Carolina line. Emergency crews carried out water rescues in the counties of Louisa, Madison and Hanover, plus the cities of Roanoke and Salem.
Most of the problems were on secondary routes, but not all. Standing water invaded sections of Interstate 64 in Hampton and Norfolk, as well as U.S. Route 1 near Fredericksburg.
Despite the overall soaking conditions, metro Richmond escaped with some of the lowest totals in the region — roughly 2 to 3 inches — and largely avoided the widespread flash flooding seen in Hampton Roads and the western Piedmont. Areas 70 miles to the northwest and 70 miles to the southeast of Richmond saw double, and in some cases triple, the amount of rain.
Rain gauges collected more than 7 inches of rain in eastern Campbell County, and also in several parts of Hampton Roads.
For Danville and Lynchburg, it was the heaviest two-day November rainstorm on record.
Amounts topped 4 inches in western Hanover County, which prompted
A warning sign stands in the road in front of the closed floodgate on Dock Street at 18th Street. A crest of 17.9 feet is projected for the James River’s Westham gauge at 1 p.m. Friday, followed by a gradual ebb to 15 feet Saturday evening.
several roads to close because of high water.
Unfortunately, the swath of heaviest rainfall aligned with the James River basin upstream from Richmond, so high water from runoff will be an issue all the way through the weekend.
As the rain cleared out to sea Thursday afternoon and the flash flood threat abated, the James River was just beginning to swell above the reach of the last flood.
Its level passed 12 feet at the Westham gauge on Thursday morning, then 15 feet by midafternoon.
A crest of 17.9 feet is projected for 1 p.m. Friday, followed by a gradual ebb to 15 feet on Saturday
evening and 12 feet on Sunday afternoon.
The last flood to go higher reached 18.1 feet on Jan. 27, 2010. On Feb. 25, 2003, the river reached 18.73 feet.
Even though this threatens to be the highest flood in 17 years, it will fall short of the modern record set by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
The City Locks gauge at Great Shiplock Park, near downtown, is expected to crest at 17.1 feet on Friday afternoon. At that level, it would be 9 feet above minor flood stage but 2 feet short of the threshold for a moderate flood. The gauge’s record was set by Agnes — at 36.5 feet.
The closure of the
floodwall at Dock Street and Brander Street was triggered by the forecast exceeding 15 feet at City Locks. They will remain closed until sometime after the water recedes. Not including the routine annual testing of the floodwall, this marks the first closure of those gates since 1999, according to a DPU spokesperson.
The floodwall on either end of the Mayo Bridge is to remain open,and would only close with a 26-foot forecast.
Dock Street, which will be covered by water if the river rises as expected, is closed to traffic between 17th Street and 21st Street and requires drivers to detour via Cary Street or
Portions of the James River Park System will also be off limits until further notice, including the lots for Pony Pasture and Huguenot Flatwater, the Pipeline Walk and access to Texas Beach and the 42nd Street tower.
Some light rain could continue into Friday morning, but no significant new accumulations are expected over the next week. The forecast features slowly clearing skies on Friday, with a cooler range of morning 40s and afternoon 60s. The sun will be back out in earnest on Saturday, but with seasonably chilly highs in the upper 50s.
High water will affect other rivers throughout the region over the next few days.
These National Weather Service forecasts are as of Thursday evening. Minor flooding typically has little threat to developed areas and moderate flooding brings increasing risks to roads and infrastructure near the banks, while major floods may threaten homes and businesses.
James River at Cartersville (moderate)
Mattaponi River near Beulahville (minor)
the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg (moderate)
Rivanna River near Palmyra (minor)
Rapidan River near Culpeper (minor)
Dan River between Danville (major) and South Boston (moderate)
Roanoke River at Altavista (moderate), Brookneal (major) and Randolph (moderate)
Appomattox River at Farmville (moderate) and Mattoax (minor)
Pigg River near Sandy Level (moderate)
Slate River near Arvonia (minor)
Meherrin River near Lawrenceville (minor)
the Nottoway River from Stony Creek to Sebrell (minor)
Blackwater River above Franklin (minor)
River gauges showed minor flooding on several other smaller rivers in the western Piedmont and southwestern mountains on Thursday.