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Flood stage readings revised on the Dan / September 02, 2019
The National Weather Service is changing flood stage categories for the Dan River at Paces and Riverdale this week to better align with the agency’s definitions for minor, moderate and major flooding.

Even as the Dan has become prone to recent flooding — the severity at times catching Riverdale merchants and others off-guard — the NWS is changing its guidance to suggest that the Dan would have to rise to epic levels to qualify as a “major” flood.

In Riverdale, that would mean the Dan would have to crest of 34 feet above stage, revised upward from the current mark of 29 feet. The historic high for the Dan at Riverdale is a crest of 33.37 feet, set in June 1972. The highest crest in recent years has been 31.40 feet, coming in October 2018.

That flood, in the wake of Tropical Storm Michael, breached the 501-58 intersection in Riverdale, covered the east-bound lanes of U.S. 58 out to Gene’s Orange Market, and inundated some half-dozen homes on Maplewood Drive.

In the NWS’s definition of flooding, such a spillover by the Dan will now qualify as “moderate flood stage.” The floor for moderate flooding at Riverdale is being revised upward to 29 feet, from the current 25 feet.

In Paces, major flooding of the Dan will occur at 35 feet, up from a stage of 27 feet. Moderate flooding in Paces will be deemed to develop at 29 feet above stage, five feet higher than the current reading of 24 feet.

The switchover in flood categories is expected to take place on Sept. 5 for both Riverdale and Paces, according to the NWS.

According to Steve Dishman, the county’s emergency services coordinator, the change in defining what does and doesn’t constitute major flooding on the Dan doesn’t mean that the NWS and local authorities will no longer issue warnings when the river is about to spill its banks.

“We know the projections of what it takes to flood those areas — we’ll still be putting out advisories in those areas to make sure people aren’t left out,” Dishman said.

The intent in revising the flood stage categories “is to make them a little more relevant to how these things affect our area,” he continued. “Even with the floods here, it doesn’t rise to the ‘major impact’ that they [NWS] wrote in the definitions.”

The agency defines moderate flooding as “some inundation of structures and roads occurs near the river channel. Some evacuations of people and/or transfer of property to higher elevations are necessary.” Major flooding, on the other hand, involves “extensive inundation of structures and roads” and “[n]umerous evacuations of people and/or transfer of property to higher elevations.”

Minor flooding in South Boston will occur when the Dan rises 22 feet above stage. “Action stage,” where preparations should be considered for the possibility of flooding, is being raised to 18 feet in Riverdale.

Explaining the changes, the Nation Weather Service in Blacksburg notes, “A careful analysis of numerous flooding events over the past several years reveals that, based on the current flood stage categories at both Paces and South Boston, the impacts of flooding at each location usually do not meet the severity criteria of the flooding definitions” set by the agency.

“It has therefore been decided to raise each of the flood stage categories upward by several feet at each location, where it is believed that the impacts will be more in line with the category definitions,” the NWS continues.

The NWS has created a webpage that gives the full definitions of flooding categories and lists the new stage revisions in Paces and Riverdale. The site can be found at

The Blacksburg office consulted with town and county officials in developing the new benchmarks in Riverdale and Paces. Dishman said he and members of South Boston public works and emergency services, along with representatives of VDOT, took part in discussions with officials with NWS and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The latter agency keeps tabs on river water levels.

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