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WVU experts foresee more extreme weather and historic flooding as communities recover from latest storms

Unusual but not unprecedented. That is how one West Virginia University expert describes the flash floods of June 23 that killed 23 people and damaged or destroyed homes and businesses across much of West Virginia.

Steve Kite, an associate professor of geology and geography in WVU’s Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, believes West Virginia has a rare opportunity to consider how it adapts communities to future flood risks.

“Folks in every community should accept that, in time, it will happen on hundreds of streams in every county in the state,” Kite says, adding that the frequency of floods that now rank as “100-year” events may also increase. Kite may be reached at 304.293.5603 or steve.kite@mail.wvu.edu.

In addition to flooding, the National Weather Service confirmed three tornadoes in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky from recent storms.

Research currently being conducted in the WVU Mountain Hydrology Laboratory is focused on understanding the complex relationship between water, climate, landscapes and people in an effort to help develop resilient mountain communities. “We are certain that climate and land cover are the dominant drivers of streamflow and changes in either can directly or indirectly alter streamflow,” Nicolas Zegre, associate professor of forest hydrology in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, says. Zegre can be reached at 304.293.0049 or nicolas.zegre@mail.wvu.edu.

The WVU Climatology Lab is conducting research that may explain why. Eungul Lee, an assistant professor of geography, says it’s all about an energy imbalance in the atmosphere.

“The intensified energy imbalance might be due to the changes in land and ocean surface conditions as well as global climate change, which are highly associated with human-induced activities,” Lee says. He can be reached at 304.293.8485 or eungul.lee@mail.wvu.edu.

Professor Amy Hessl’s research focuses on the interaction between climate variability, ecosystem processes and human activities in forested systems. “West Virginia state government and the federal government can only win by making investments in flood control,” Hessl says. She can be reached at 304.293.5603 or amy.hessl@mail.wvu.edu.

Warren Eller, associate professor in the Department of Health Policy, Management and Leadership in the WVU School of Public Health, conducts research in the area of emergency management and response. He is not optimistic that preventative investments will be made to help shield communities from future damage.

“Public attention rarely focuses on potential disasters until after and event,” he said. “Thus agencies like the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management are often left playing catch-up because they have to tackle problems they foresaw, but weren’t able to draw adequate resources in the budgeting process to properly prepare for.

“This is one area where private and nonprofit organizations can provide tremendous flexibility.” He can be reached at 304.293.0404 or wseller@hsc.wvu.edu.

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.

-WVU-