Story by Chris Graham
Depending on whom you believe, Hurricane Isabel is either going to enter and then leave Western Virginia like a lion – or like a lamb.
Weather forecasters are offering predictions that rainfall amounts in the Shenandoah Valley associated with the powerful storm – which is on track to make landfall in Coastal North Carolina this afternoon – will end up anywhere in the range of 3 to 12 inches.
But “if you look at four forecasts, you get four completely different opinions on what’s going to happen,” said Webber Payne, owner of Waynesboro Florist in downtown Waynesboro.
Payne and a group of 10 city residents were out at the old Advance Auto parking lot in the downtown district Wednesday afternoon shoveling sand into sandbags for use by downtown merchants to protect businesses from rising floodwaters.
As the group worked, Payne looked up at the clear blue sky overhead – and noted the eerie calm of the late-summer day.
“Yesterday was beautiful, today is beautiful, and they’re saying this weekend is going to be beautiful. But in between, we’re going to have two days of hell,” Payne said.
The latest data from the Virginia State Climatology Office in Charlottesville and the National Weather Service office in Sterling – which provides weather forecasts for the Shenandoah Valley, Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland – agree on two key points.
The Greater Augusta County area is in line to receive local amounts of up to 12 inches of rain – with totals widespread across the region in the range of 6-10 inches.
Winds could also be a problem – with sustained winds in the area of 30 to 35 mph and gusts of up to 45 mph beginning later today and continuing through late Friday morning.
Climatology-office research coordinator Jerry Stenger told The Augusta Free Press on Wednesday that the center of Isabel is projected to track through North Carolina into Central Virginia and directly over Charlottesville later today.
Then the storm center is expected to veer slightly eastward into Augusta County before moving northward out of the area in the overnight hours.
“The problem with that, of course, has to do with the large amount of moisture that this could bring to the area,” Stenger said.
The combination of rain and wind could end up producing dangerous, deadly mudslides and rockslides in addition to flash flooding and river and stream flooding, Stenger said.
There are also concerns about winds damaging trees and knocking entire trees and branches into power and telephone lines and homes and cars as well, Stenger said.
Stenger said the winds should be picking up early this morning and increase throughout the day. The rains should begin later this afternoon or into the evening.
The storm will intensify locally beginning around 9 p.m., Stenger said. Heavy rain, thunderstorms and rain squalls should continue through the overnight hours – “with the worst of it over by the late morning on Friday,” Stenger said.