Storm drives record floods along Mid-Atlantic coast
By Sophie Kasakove
Coastal communities in the Mid-Atlantic states remained under flood warnings or advisories Saturday as they surveyed the damage from the large, slow-moving storm that doused areas of the region and brought some of the highest tidal surges of the past two decades, according to meteorologists.
The storm and flooding affected cities and towns along northern coastal Virginia up through the Chesapeake and Delaware Bay areas, to coastal New Jersey. Waters surged into Annapolis, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, and waterways surrounding Washington and Philadelphia swelled.
Up and down the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, homes and businesses flooded and coastal roads were submerged, turning some coastal areas into islands. But the surges in some areas were not as damaging as some forecasters had feared.
In Baltimore, the Inner Harbor was underwater Friday night, but by Saturday, people in the area were back out walking their dogs and sitting on benches soaking up the sun as the storm clouds rolled out of the region. Nearby, one section of the historic Fells Point neighborhood remained under water, while workers from the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore and affected businesses cleaned debris off the sidewalks and brick streets where the water had receded.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski toured the county Saturday, surveying the impact of the storm, and said on Twitter that flooding continued in some of the low-lying coastal areas.
“We got very close to having some more significant issues,” James Wallace, director of the Baltimore City Office of Emergency Management, said, adding that the effects of the flooding were less severe than feared because of wind speeds dying down around high tide.
Widespread precipitation brought 1-2 inches of rainfall to much of the Mid-Atlantic area, with as much as 4 inches in isolated areas along the I-95 corridor.
Flooding could continue through Sunday into Monday morning in some areas, said Kevin Witt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. As of Saturday evening, there were no reports of storm-related fatalities.
In downtown Annapolis, residents sloshed through a couple feet of water Saturday morning. The water had receded overnight, from a peak of just below 5 feet, according to David Mandell, deputy director of the Office of Emergency Management.
Maryland’s capital city, which lies on the Chesapeake Bay, confronts regular tidal surge flooding, which prompted the city to develop a pumping system to prevent high-tide flooding. But it was no match for Friday night’s surge.
“We’re used to flooding, and this is kind of flooding beyond that,” Mandell said.
Around midnight Friday, Mayor Gavin Buckley of Annapolis paddled along downtown’s Dock Street on a kayak, surveying the damage to restaurants and stores. Floodwaters had overflowed sandbags at the doorways to many businesses, causing “extensive” damage that Buckley worried would have an economic toll.
“We’re only just recovering from COVID, so a lot of those business are only just getting back on their feet,” Buckley said.
Jerry Donahoe, owner of Mills Fine Wine and Spirits, was asked about his store after he checked the soaked sandbags. “It was bad,” he said. Still, he was optimistic, noting that the flooding proved much less severe than during Hurricane Isabel, when his store was submerged in a foot and a half of water.
In 2003, Hurricane Isabel inundated the city with more than 7 feet of storm surge. But the latest surge was the highest level of flooding the city has experienced that didn’t stem from a hurricane, Mandell said.
The storm’s severity was caused by a confluence of the high tides, the wind and the rain. “The whole magnitude of all of those factors made it kind of unusual,” Witt said. Coastal flood records were broken along the shores of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay in Solomons Island and Straits Point in Maryland, and Dahlgren, Virginia.
High tides also caused water levels along the Delaware River and upper Delaware Bay to approach some of their highest points on record. High winds along parts of the Atlantic coast peaked at around 60 mph, according to Alex Staarmann, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, bringing down some trees and power lines. In New Jersey, about 4,000 households remained without power Saturday.
The storm came just days after a Nor’easter battered coastal New England with hurricane force winds, cutting electricity to hundreds of thousands of households. Thousands remained without power in Massachusetts on Saturday.
Witt said the storm was part of a pattern of stronger storms affecting wider areas that were driven by climate change.
From 2000-15, the incidence of high-tide flooding in the Mid-Atlantic doubled to an average of six days per year from three days, according to a 2018 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“We are on the front lines of climate change,” Mandell said of Annapolis, which has a population of less than 40,000 but contains 17 miles of waterfront. “We see it routinely.”