State, valley brace for Hurricane Joaquin

Lewis McDonald, chief engineer for the Strasburg Fire Department, directs water from the basement of this Charles Street home that flooded on Wednesday afternoon. Heavy rain is on the way, forecasters say. Rich Cooley/Daily

As Hurricane Joaquin creeps closer to the East Coast, residents, organizations and agencies throughout the commonwealth and the Northern Shenandoah Valley are bracing for the impacts from likely heavy rains and wind.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm’s arrival.

McAuliffe is urging resident to prepare for hurricane-like conditions and to stay away from roadways that may be flooded. A full list of recommended actions and storm preparation from the state can be found at: http://1.usa.gov/1jzEGiW.

Starting this evening, the National Weather Service is expecting areas around the Northern Shenandoah Valley to receive between 5 and 10 inches of rainfall from systems stemming from Joaquin.

Dan Hoffman, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, said, “It’s still uncertain as to whether or not the hurricane itself is going to make landfall.”

Hoffman noted that this weekend’s rain will be split between two storms – one starting ahead of Joaquin late today and outlying bands from the actual storm that could cross the state later over the weekend.

“There’s several different systems interacting; Joaquin is one of them,” Hoffman said, noting that non-tropical systems of both high and low pressure will determine if – and possibly where – Joaquin could make landfall.

“It’s kind of got to go right in between those two (systems), so exactly where it slips in between will determine its overall track,” he said. “There’s also a second scenario where it … safely squirts out to sea.”

Regardless of the storm’s trajectory, Hoffman said that residents should expect several inches of rain to fall between Friday and Monday, with the possibility of strong winds later in the weekend.

“It is moving over some warm water, and there’s not a lot of outside interference,” Hoffman said, noting that the conditions could strengthen the storm to a “major hurricane” with “winds greater than 110 mph.”

Gary Yew, chief of Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue and the county’s emergency manager for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said they are gearing up in case an emergency response is needed this weekend.

“We’ve notified everybody that’s part of our emergency operations center staff, and let them know to be prepared to come in … should we need to activate,” Yew said, noting that this could include the Virginia Department of Transportation, Social Services and area hospitals.

“Each one of the county agencies, plus numerous other partner agencies … all have representatives that come into the EOC (emergency operation center)” he said, adding that the center’s response would depend on the types of incidences that may occur this weekend.

Yew noted that the county’s middle schools – North Fork, Peter Muhlenberg and Signal Knob – will serve as emergency shelters for any residents who are displaced from their homes.

VDOT spokeswoman Sandy Myers said, “Once we see that (the roads) are going to be covered, we then block the road off and put up barriers and barrels to be sure that nobody travels over that roadway.”

Myers added that Mechanicsville-based Medek Tree Service is working with VDOT and will have four to six crews available in the event that trees or tree branches block area roadways.

The impending weekend weather has also caused the cancellation or rescheduling of area events and athletic contests.

Strasburg Oktoberfest, which was slated for Saturday, has been moved to Oct. 24. Rich Orndorff, town councilman and Strasburg Chamber of Commerce president, said that the event will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on that date.

George Mason’s football game at Strasburg has been moved from 7:30 p.m. Friday to 7 p.m. today. Warren County at Central was moved from 7:30 p.m. Friday to 7 p.m. today. The John Champe at Skyline game was moved from Skyline to John Champe and from Friday to today. The game will begin at 7 p.m. The Stonewall Jackson at Stuarts Draft game will be at 7 p.m. today.

The only area public school game that has not been moved to today is Sherando at James Wood. James Wood activities coordinator Craig Woshner said they are waiting until noon on today to make a final decision. He said they are waiting to see an hourly forecast and then they will make a decision on when to play.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com