Tuesday, October 4, 2022

When a storm surge threatens York County, what procedures are in place?

A coastal flood advisory means that some roads near waterfronts could experience minor flooding. (WYDaily/Courtesy of York-Poquoson Sheriff's Office, 2018)
A coastal flood advisory means that some roads near waterfronts could experience minor flooding. (WYDaily/Courtesy of York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office, 2018)

As Hurricane Dorian brought wind and rain to Hampton Roads Thursday and Friday, it also brought another threat: flooding caused by a storm surge.

Parts of Hampton Roads are likely to flood during regular rains and high tides, but storms can heighten flooding issues. With Dorian, Hampton Roads expected a storm surge of 2 to 4 feet Friday.

So, how does York County — with some low-lying areas in flood-prone Zone A — prepare for flooding before and during storms such as Dorian?

County spokeswoman Gail Whittaker said the county has an emergency operations plan that governs how various departments handle emergency situations, from storms, to radiological events at the Surry Power Station, to other major disasters.

“As it relates to addressing flooding and storm surge– most importantly the public must stay vigilant and know their personal risks such as whether they reside in a storm surge zone, evacuation zone and/or are prone to non-tidal types of flooding that may occur (for example) from heavy and/or prolonged rainfall,” Whittaker wrote in an email, referring to the emergency operations plan.

The most flood-prone areas of York County include Seaford, Dandy, Dare, York Point, the Yorktown waterfront and some limited areas of Tabb.

“Fortunately, residents in the areas [most] affected by these events are familiar with potential impacts,” she wrote.

Part of the plan involves the York County Department of Fire and Life Safety distributing information and recommendations to residents based on the forecast.

During Dorian, York County emergency officials met multiple times over several days leading up to the hurricane, discussing the best ways to handle expected flooding. The planning began shortly after the forecast for Dorian indicated the region could be impacted.

Stormwater drainage crews went out to inspect “choke points” to ensure water could drain. Residents in low-lying areas were also directed to be moderate in their water usage until after Friday’s 4:30 p.m. high tide. 

After the high tide, county crews planned to respond to areas to see if there’s any damage, standing water or debris, Whittaker said.

York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Shelley Ward said deputies planned to patrol the flood-prone areas and help residents or put out “high water” signs as-needed. 

While the county has a general plan in place, York lucked out in some ways. 

In a live Facebook video around 3 p.m. Friday, Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Diggs said the storm surge waters appeared to be receding despite the tide coming in.

“We were expecting a lot more rain,” Diggs said in the video.

Whittaker said the county can recommend residents evacuate even if the Virginia Department of Emergency Management doesn’t.

Ahead of Dorian, Virginia Beach told Sandbridge residents to evacuate to avoid the storm and its related flooding.

For this storm, the county decided the best course of action was for residents to shelter in place.

“Of course, if a situation changes, we can open a shelter within a short period [of] time,” Whittaker wrote.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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