County prepares for heavy rainfall

As spring forecasts in Greene County bring on stretches of rainfall, Greg Leathers, Greene County emergency manager, can only expect the worst.

“Since Christmas, we’ve received 14.1 inches of rain, which is 4.9 [inches] over our average,” Leathers said.

While some might not be impacted by the rainfall other than an annoying commute or using the occasional umbrella, Leathers said rain has historically caused major problems within Greene County.

“We’ve had multiple mudslides, and of course the rain doesn’t help,” Leathers said.

The phrase, “April showers bring May flowers” takes on a whole new meaning for Leathers, whose job is to make sure inhabitants of Greene County stay safe in times of heavy rain and flooding.

“I can vouch that there’s a lot of rain in April,” Leathers said. “It hasn’t rained in a little bit, which is nice, and the ground is thawed. When the ground is frozen, you have more of a chance of flooding.”

Greene County, specifically Waynesburg, has a long relationship with heavy rainfall. Every year, the town celebrates a 145-year-old tradition of the “Rain Day Festival” held July 29, with bets placed on whether or not it will rain. According to the Rain Day Festival website, the event started in the late 1800s after a local farmer began to notice it always rained on his birthday.

There was also the historic Washington/Waynesburg flood in August 1888, which was documented and revisited earlier this year in an Observer-Reporter article published February 2019.

“Throughout Washington and Greene counties buildings were flooded, roads were washed out, bridges were destroyed, and personal belongings were taken down river,” wrote Clay Kilgore, the executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. “The Observer would call the flood of 1888 ‘The Biggest Yet.’ In total it was estimated that the flood caused more than $150,000 in damages.”

With such a deep history of rainfall, the question for Leathers then becomes, what can be done?

“We have a big button we press that puts a bubble over Greene County and makes all the water run into West Virginia,” Leathers said, laughing under his breath. “Seriously, we try to mitigate [the damage] based on what has happened in the past.”

For those whose homes might be impacted by future flooding, Leathers said it’s best to be proactive.

“We encourage people to try to get their appliances in the basement up off the ground, elevate them a little bit,” Leathers said. “That way, if they do get water in the basement, the water tank, heater and washer dryer aren’t affected.”

At the end of the day, Leathers said heavy rainfall and flooding is inevitable for the county, so all he and the residents can do is to be prepared.

“It’s the geological makeup of the county — when you add water and gravity it’s going to happen.”