Watauga River Rises To Nearly 14 Feet, Among Highest Heights in Past 100 Years of Record Keeping

Published Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 2:26 pm
The Watauga River at the bridge on Rominger Road.  Normally, the entire boulder is visible. Before the flood on Wednesday, five more feet of this boulder was visible. Photo by Jesse Wood

The Watauga River at the bridge on Rominger Road – just past where Cove Creek merges with the Watauga. At the flood’s peak last night, this boulder wasn’t visible. Before the flood on Wednesday, five more feet of this boulder was visible compared to what is shown in this picture. Photo by Jesse Wood

By Jesse Wood

Courtesy of the National Weather Service, Observations by the U.S. Geological Survey

Courtesy of the National Weather Service, Observations by the U.S. Geological Survey

Jan. 31, 2013. The valley in between Rominger and Howard Edmisten roads off of U.S. 321 in Sugar Grove had the feel of an ocean about one hour before the peak of the flood last night.

Though too dark to see even remotely clearly, the scattered lights from barns, homes and passing headlights reflected off the 8 p.m. rushing waters of Cove Creek that spread across the entire low-lying areas of the valley before making its way to the Watauga River.

The torrential downpour the High Country received last night, anywhere from three to six inches, rose the Watauga River to nearly 14 feet, one of its highest heights since record keeping began.

According to U.S. Geological Survey observations, the river crested at 13.86 feet late last night, which is the 14th highest level in almost 100 years, but still significantly lower than the record. Here are the other highest historical crests of the Watauga River:

  • 1 – 29.60 ft on 08/13/1940
  • 2 – 22.10 ft on 07/15/1916
  • 3 – 21.90 ft on 09/17/2004
  • 4 – 20.46 ft on 01/14/1995
  • 5 – 17.64 ft on 08/17/1994
  • 6 – 17.14 ft on 02/13/1966
  • 7 – 16.86 ft on 10/05/1995
  • 8 – 16.77 ft on 11/06/1977
  • 9 – 16.60 ft on 01/08/1998
  • 10 – 16.40 ft on 12/07/1950
  • 11 – 16.26 ft on 05/28/1973
  • 12 – 15.52 ft on 09/22/1989
  • 13 – 14.49 ft on 09/21/1979
The valley in between U.S. 321 and Howard Edmisten and Rominger roads at 7:15 a.m. Photo by Jesse Wood

The valley in between U.S. 321 and Howard Edmisten and Rominger roads at 7:15 a.m. Photo by Jesse Wood

While a flash flood warning for the High Country was in effect for most of the day, the National Weather Service didn’t issue a rare flash flood emergency for Watauga County until 5:40 p.m. That report mentioned that the “Watauga River at Sugar Grove was rising very rapidly to above flood stage” and urged any individuals in the vicinity of the river to consider immediate evacuation.

River levels began spiking about 2 p.m. After a full day of rain, the Watauga River reached the flood stage, which for the Watauga River is six feet, just before 5:30 p.m. For the next four hours, the river rose and rose to heights unseen in nearly a decade. 

Four hours later, at 9:15, the river peaked at 13.86 feet, and afterwards the river levels steadily declined. 

Still, the Watauga River is still hovering around the flood stage at just under 6 feet as of Thursday afternoon. 

Cove Creek was rushing pretty good last night. Photo by Jesse Wood

Cove Creek was rushing pretty good last night. Photo by Jesse Wood

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