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The newest storm report from NWS shows Florence veering south but still dumping much moisture in Southside. / September 12, 2018
With southern Virginia in Hurricane Florence’s sights as the storm bears down on the southeastern U.S., Mecklenburg County is bracing for impacts that could include tropical depression-force winds, torrential rainfall and widespread flooding.

Advance notice of the hurricane’s path towards the Carolinas sent people scurrying to local groceries and hardware stores in search of supplies for getting through the storm. Late Tuesday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center issued an update on Florence’s trajectory that suggests the storm may turn slightly south and west as it works its way inland, after first delivering a massive blow to the Carolina coast.

Even if the center of the storm turns away from Virginia, it could deliver unprecedented amounts of rainfall — possibly matching the epic precipitation of Hurricane Harvey, which dumped more than 30 inches of rain over a three-day period in Houston last year. Florence would have to hover over the region to live up to Harvey’s fearsome legacy, but the hurricane center has indicated this could happen despite the storm’s steady march west.

The Hurricane Center estimates southern Virginia will receive rainfall of about 10 inches, although some areas may experience twice that amount.

In Mecklenburg, County Administrator Wayne Carter told town officials on Tuesday to expect areas both above and below Kerr Dam to flood if the worst of Florence materializes.

Carter said operators at Kerr Dam will likely hold as much water in Buggs Island Lake as possible before releasing it into Lake Gaston. Carter said his understanding is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is not required to release water downstream other than at minimal levels until the lake rises to 320 feet.

At 320-321 feet — the brim of John H. Kerr Dam — the Corps of Engineers is required to release 85 percent of water still flowing into the lake, Carter said. When water levels rise above 321 feet, the Corps must release 100 percent of the water flowing into the reservoir.

The lake is currently at 299.86 feet. Full pool is at 300 feet and flood stage is at 320 feet, according to the USACE website.

A spokesperson for the Corps said current water releases from Kerr Reservoir have been minimal in an attempt to reduce the flow into lakes and rivers below the dam. Lisa Parker, chief information officer with the USACE Wilmington District, could not say at what point the Corps is required to release water — or what happens if Lake Gaston and the Roanoke River below the dam are already inundated and floodwaters at Kerr Dam are released.

Instead, she said Corps officials are making daily inspections of the dam for structural integrity and are “making every attempt to avoid flooding waterways downstream,” in the aftermath of Florence. Parker added there are built in mechanisms for diverting water before flooding occurs, but did not elaborate on those mechanisms.

Daisy Pridgen of Dominion Energy, which owns Lake Gaston and Roanoke Rapids Lake and operates the dams for both, said “we are readying the dams at Lake Gaston and Roanoke Rapids Lake by preparing the spillway gates for quick operation, inspecting equipment and reviewing high flow procedures.”

She also confirmed statements by USACE about current water releases: “Both lakes [Gaston and Kerr/Buggs Island] are being kept at the low end of the license required levels to maximize the storage capacity available,” she said.

Dominion Energy is acknowledging that Hurricane Florence could deliver a flood deluge beyond the capacity of Lake Gaston and even Kerr Lake to contain, according to Pridgen. To that end, she said, “Dominion will work closely with the Corps of Engineers to manage the water flow for both the lakes [Kerr and Gaston] and downstream, but if severe flooding occurs, the lakes and the river may rise higher than what has occurred in the past and lakeside and riverside owners should prepare their property now by moving items to higher ground or securing those items that cannot be moved.”

Pridgen said Dominion wants to assure people living near the lakes that the dams at Kerr, Gaston and Roanoke Rapids are built to withstand flows far in excess of the record flood on the Roanoke River in 1940. Both Gaston and the Roanoke Rapids dams are inspected regularly by Dominion and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), she added.

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