Following three days of light to steady rain across the region, Danville officials and road crews are bracing for the possibility of the Dan River flooding certain sections of the city.
Danville has not yet received the heavier rain bands that areas west of town have seen, but they could be coming, which would expedite the river’s rise and create more flooding than the city has already seen.
City spokesman Arnold Hendrix said city personnel continue to monitor the weather and road conditions in anticipation of the Dan River cresting around 28 feet sometime Friday morning, according to National Weather Service projections. By midday Thursday, the river’s height was 22.27 feet, meaning parts of Trade and Water streets were already flooded.
“It’s a fluid situation,” Hendrix said. “It kind of changes from hour to hour.”
On Feb. 8, the Dan River reached 27.22 feet — the third-highest crest since 1996. During Tropical Storm Michael in October 2018, the river was measured at just over 30 feet.
Danville Public Works crews are working 12-hour shifts in order to respond to flooded areas, but barricades and barriers along flood-prone streets were already in place Thursday.
Sections of the Danville Riverwalk Trail were also underwater Thursday morning, with the portion near Dan Daniel Memorial Park particularly unnavigable.
The kayak launch at Abreu Grogan Park off Memorial Drive was elevated beyond normal and inaccessible by foot. Nearby, the water level was threatening to reach the observation deck.
Vance Joyner, a meteorologist based at the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, said the region has seen so much rain this week because of what’s called a closed upper-low system.
“It is a rare event,” Joyner said. “It’s an atmospheric pattern that’s set up over just to our west, and it’s not moving, really, so it continues to force moisture into our area. As long as it doesn’t move, it’s going to keep bringing more moisture and allowing it to keep raining in our area.”
Therein lies the reason for the Dan River's expected rise.
Rick Drazenovich, the director of Public Works, said the city is particularly concerned about River Street when the river threatens to flood.
Public works vehicles could be seen alongside the road near the pedestrian train trestle bridge Thursday, monitoring the two water pumps that have been set up to prevent River Street from flooding.
The water pumps work in concert with a berm of dirt that borders the road and the river to prevent flood waters from reaching the street.
Public works personnel have closed the drainage pipe that runs through the berm to traditionally allow rainwater to empty out into the river. By closing it and bringing in water pumps to dispose of rainwater over the berm, Drazenovich said River Street can remain a little more clear of flood water for a longer period of time.
“The level there is 21 feet [according to a gauge reading], so when the river rises to 21 feet, if that berm weren’t there, it would flood the road,” Drazenovich said. “With the berm there, and the pumps, we can hold the river back until it reaches 26 feet.”
As a main east-west thoroughfare through town, and one that is not easily detoured for trucks, Drazenovich said it’s important to keep that section of River Street accessible as long as possible.
“Keeping that road open really serves the public well,” he said.