Thursday, October 7, 2004

Weather Service reviewing flood forecast complaints

The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - When the Ohio River rose 22 feet in 24 hours after the remnants of Hurricane Ivan moved north last month, victims immediately wanted to know why they weren't properly warned.

The National Weather Service in Charleston has conducted an internal science and operations review and plans to share results at a town hall meeting in Marietta, Ohio, on Oct. 14, Alan Rezek, the meteorologist in charge in Charleston, said Wednesday.

"A lot of people are not happy," Rezek said. "... They deserve to know what happened that day and that night."

Rezek said it became apparent a couple days after the floods that there were forecasting problems.

The Ohio Valley from Marietta to Wheeling was hit on Sept. 17 with about 5 inches of rain as Ivan's remains moved through, killing two people in West Virginia. Up to 9 inches of rain fell on an area from Wheeling to Pittsburgh.

The heavy rain swelled the Ohio River at Marietta to its eighth-highest level since the Weather Service began keeping records in the 1880s. The river was 9 feet above flood stage there, the highest since 1964. About 600 businesses and 600 residents were affected.

Business owners, residents and officials have said some of the flood damage could have been avoided if they hadn't been misled by forecasts.

Although Rezek would not say what his review uncovered, he had previously said a late-night flood warning could not have been issued earlier because forecasters had no way to know rain would intensify upriver and rapidly raise water levels.

Rezek said the Ohio River usually rises more slowly, allowing several days of warning, but it reacted more like a small river because of local drainage from unexpected heavy rain in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

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