WATAUGA — The High Country received extensive rainfall during the June 7-9 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 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.
Whittington, who is a Watauga County engineer with the NCDOT, visited the site and said the mudslide itself occurred between the two intersections of Elk Creek Road and Powder Horn Mountain Road. Signs advising traffic of the mudslide were posted on both ends of Elk Creek Road. NCDOT planned to have contractors set up Monday afternoon with work started to clear the mudslide on Tuesday, Whittington said.
Watauga County Emergency Management said locals should use Sampson Road as a detour.
Along with Elk Creek Road, Sampson Road saw some damage, but Whittington said the road is passable. Other roads in the Triplett area are passable, but NCDOT was planning to put up barriers and traffic cones to warn traffic of washed-out shoulders.
According to Blue Ridge Energy, 5,556 of its members saw power outage issues during the storm event. The company stated that line technicians and assisting crews had used ATVs to reach any assessable areas after heavy rain and flooding washed out roads and brought down trees on power lines, but some areas were totally inaccessible and hampered restoration. The weather broke poles and damaged the electric system in 84 different locations of the cooperative’s service area. Power to all but one customer had been restored to those impacted by the afternoon of 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.
“We had ground water come up through the foundation in the same four classrooms that have been flooded and repaired four times in the last year,” Elliott said. “We worked all day Sunday and had a crew there all night to remove the water, and a restoration crew arrived this morning to assess damage.”
Even though the classrooms were dry for school on June 10, Elliott said the school would not be using the classrooms for the remainder of the school week.
Concerns arose from community members about the land the school system is under contract to purchase for the proposed new Valle Crucis School. The proposed site is situated along Broadstone Road between the Mast Farm Inn and the Mast Store Annex — approximately one-quarter mile from the existing school. Elliott said school officials closely monitored the flooding at not only the existing school but also at the property under contract.
“While portions of the new proposed location also sit in the flood plain, the top portion where the school will be built did not flood,” Elliott said. “The drainage ditch on the property did its job and carried a lot of water away from the property.”
Elliott added that the Watauga River crested and came out into the flood way portion of the property at one point, but that WCS would not be building anything below the drainage ditch or in the flood way.
“There is one area near the road that routinely pools with water in heavy rain because of the drainage from Broadstone Road, but that would be corrected with better drainage during construction,” Elliott said.
At the Blowing Rock Town Council meeting on Tuesday, June 11, Town Manager Shane Fox said the town recorded 13 inches of rain at its wastewater treatment plant from 7 a.m. Friday, June 7 through 7 p.m. Monday, June 10. Fox also said that town employees worked around a combined 100 hours of overtime to make sure citizens were kept safe and dry with only a "handful" of issues reported, most of which were addressed quickly.
Marsh said the county would not be applying for disaster assistance as there was not enough damage to apply for support after completing a damage assessment.
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.