Thunderstorms accompanied by strong, gusty winds swept into the lowlands of West Virginia from the northwest late Monday and early Tuesday, leaving more than 80,000 homes and businesses without power.
Wind gusts of up to 46 miles per hour accompanied thunderstorms in the Charleston area late Monday and early Tuesday, while gusts of up to 50 mph were recorded in the Huntington area, according to the National Weather Service’s Charleston Forecast Office. Heavy rain fell at scattered locations, with portions of Harrison, Lewis, Barbour and Doddridge counties receiving up to 2 inches of rainfall by Tuesday morning.
The storms also boosted relative humidity levels, increasing the discomfort from a heat wave accompanying the storm front’s arrival, and setting the stage for heat index values of up to 109 degrees Tuesday in 10 West Virginia counties included in an excessive-heat warning.
The counties included in Tuesday’s warning — Kanawha, Putnam, Cabell, Lincoln, Jackson, Mason, Wayne, Mingo, Logan and Boone — also were included in a second excessive-heat warning by the Weather Service issued for Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. During that period, heat index values of up to 107 degrees are deemed possible.
The Weather Service’s heat index combines air temperature with relative humidity to assign a value that approximates what a temperature reading feels like to those working or playing outside.
At 5 p.m. Tuesday, it was 90 degrees in Charleston, 92 in Huntington and 94 in Point Pleasant, according to the Weather Service. Highs Wednesday are expected to reach 95 degrees in Charleston, and 97 in Huntington and Point Pleasant.
Since all counties covered by the excessive-heat warnings also were among counties where power outages occurred, cooling stations were established Tuesday to help residents without power escape the heat.
In Kanawha County on Tuesday, cooling stations were opened at Roosevelt Neighborhood Center, Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and Kanawha City Community Center in Charleston, and at South Charleston Community Center and West Side Volunteer Fire Department.
The stations are scheduled to be open again Wednesday.
Tuesday’s power outages were concentrated mainly in the Southwestern portion of the state, extending southward from the Ohio River in Mason and Jackson counties to the Kentucky border. A total of 62,156 Appalachian Power customers in West Virginia were without electricity at 11 a.m. Tuesday, along with more than 22,000 FirstEnergy customers.
Outages also took a toll on portions of the state’s Northern Panhandle, including Wheeling, where more than 15,000 homes and businesses were without electricity Tuesday morning. A power company official blamed back-to-back derechos — lines of intense, fast-moving windstorms — for causing the bulk of those outages, according a Wheeling News Register account.
By 5 p.m. Tuesday, the number of Appalachian Power customers without electricity had dropped to 40,943 statewide, including 5,695 in the Wheeling area, while the number of outages involving homes and business served by FirstEnergy had dropped to 11,274.
More than 6,000 Appalachian Power customers in the Kanawha Valley remained without power at that time.
Scattered showers and thunderstorms remain a possibility Wednesday afternoon and night, with the odds growing stronger late Thursday with the expected arrival of a cold front, according to the Weather Service. As the cold front pushes through the state, a weekend of dry weather and warm afternoons is predicted.