Compared to the fury unleashed on coastal regions by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Florence, the Surry County area emerged from the weather crisis relatively unscathed.
Of course, there were the usual suspects surrounding such an event — downed trees, power outages and flooded roadways — but none in great abundance, and certainly not on the scale that had been predicted.
“It was minimal compared to what they told us we were going to get here,” Surry Emergency Services Director John Shelton said of forecasters.
“The wind wasn’t as strong as they said it was going to be, and we didn’t get anywhere near the rain they said we were going to get,” Shelton added regarding the total of 10-15 inches predicted for the weekend.
In contrast, during the height of the storm, occurring during a 24-hour period from Sunday morning to overnight and ending at 7 a.m. Monday, only around 2.6 inches were recorded at F.G. Doggett Water Plant in Mount Airy, according to Water Treatment Supervisor Andy Utt.
Only about a half-inch of rain fell the day before at the water plant, the city’s official weather-monitoring station.
“We’ve had much worse storms to deal with than this one,” Shelton summed-up Monday in assessing Flo’s impact locally. “We were expecting to get pounded.”
The combination of gusting winds and saturating rain did deliver some chaos, including 20-25 trees down in the county this morning and about the same number on Sunday.
Yet this did not produce the usual impact of downed electrical lines from fallen trees, with only scattered outages reported. Shelton was unsure of the peak number during the storm, because there weren’t enough interruptions to merit notice.
“We usually don’t get real concerned until it gets up around 500,” the emergency services director said of the outage total not approaching that figure.
Also, no major highways were flooded or closed as a result of the storm.
“We had a lot of surface flooding in different locations,” Shelton said, but that was limited to minor roadways and the water subsided rapidly in those cases. “We had surface flooding on the western side of the county and the south side.”
The water flow along the Ararat River, Lovills Creek and other waterways was well-confined during the storm, although some smaller streams did leave their banks.
Areas that usually are flooded during heavy rainfall, such as Riverside Park in Mount Airy, did not suffer the same fate this time around. Shelton also pointed out that storm drains typically become stopped up during major weather events, but that was not the case with Florence.
Still, her lingering effects prompted Mount Airy and Surry County schools to operate under two-hour delayed schedules Monday.
Areas to the north in Virginia reportedly received more severe weather, leading to the cancellation of classes Monday in Carroll and Patrick counties and the city of Galax.
Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe had declared a state of emergency in the city which went into effect Friday afternoon as Florence bore down on the area. He could not be reached Monday for comment about the storm, including when the state of emergency might be lifted.
Yadkin River is ‘hot spot’
Surry County was not entirely out of the woods Monday with Florence, according to the emergency services director, who said areas along the Yadkin River were looming as a concern.
“The hot spot is the Yadkin River,” Shelton said of the major waterway that skirts the southern end of the county, including the town of Elkin.
Yadkin Emergency Services Director Keith Vestal reported that river crested shortly before 1 o’clock and water levels were already going down in and around Elkin.
Whereas the Mount Airy area escaped major flooding, that was not the case with Elkin due to its proximity to the Yadkin, and that municipality has suffered most of the problems locally in that regard.
This has included flooding of the Elkin Public Library and Crater Park located adjacent to the river. Ironically, library officials canceled a scheduled catfish workshop due to weather conditions and flooding.
The emergency services director acknowledged that the fears surrounding Hurricane Florence’s possible heavy footprint on this area — anticipated for the better part of a week — were not manifested in reality.
However, local public safety officials were forced to prepare for the worst as dictated by emergency protocol, Shelton said, as opposed to not doing so and getting caught up in a serious situation.
Things looked bad for this area all along, including television coverage that traced the storm pattern in graphic detail on the screen.
“We were in the purple several times,” Shelton said of the color assigned to counties at extremely high risk.
The fact this area dodged the brunt of Florence does not obscure the crisis situation being faced in coastal areas such as Wilmington and New Bern.
In response, Surry County sent five people to Butner to assist at an emergency management center there, a staging area for equipment to be sent down east.
Surry also is prepared to aid persons fleeing from the calamity there.
“We’re on standby to open a crest shelter here,” Shelton said, which will accommodate evacuees from coastal areas if needed due to rising waters.
A morgue trailer in Surry County also is on standby to be sent to the flood zone.
It was used heavily in October 2016 when Hurricane Matthew ravaged eastern North Carolina, accompanied by a number of drowning victims being found in vehicles.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.