Remembering Riley

With nor’easter after nor’easter coming one right after another, with another looming at the beginning of the week, it might be easy to overlook the historic nature of what Winter Storm Riley did to this area.

Two weeks ago today, there was gridlock on both sides of the Susquehanna River, the likes of which has never been seen. Everyone has a horror story, or knows someone with a similar tale, of how many hours it took to make a routine trip usually measured in minutes.

Winter Storm Riley’s fury wasn’t the remnants of the iconic Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972, neither was it what was left of Hurricane Isabel in 2003, nor was it Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Sandy flooded much of the Havre de Grace coastline. Isabel did similar flooding, wiping out much of the Promenade in Havre de Grace. Agnes also flooded Havre de Grace and struck fear in the region about the Conowingo Dam withstanding the storm.

Riley’s wrath didn’t seemingly cause any damage equal to those or other named storms that are better remembered.

Riley did, however, rip through the region causing 12 hours of historic traffic entanglements and days without electricity for thousands of customers.

When Riley ripped through the region the first weekend of March, a tractor-trailer was toppled on the Tydings Bridge that carries Interstate 95 over the Susquehanna. The accident, coupled with extremely high winds, forced the closure of the six-lane bridge in mid-morning that Friday.

So as three lanes of the usually non-stop traffic that rolls in each direction on I-95 was stopped and trying for a couple of hours to crawl toward the Hatem Bridge and its two lanes in each direction carrying Route 40 across the Susquehanna, Riley’s roar shut the Hatem Bridge.

A tree on the ground on the west side of Route 40 on the Havre de Grace side of the Hatem Bridge toppled across the westbound lanes, shutting that bridge, too, in the early afternoon that Friday.

From the time the Tydings Bridge closed in the morning until late that Friday night, neither gridlock nor chaos adequately describes the traffic nightmare.

Once many of the road-weary travelers reached home safely, they faced the joy of no electricity with the prospect of being without power for days.

The power companies struggled for 72 to 96 hours to restore electricity to many customers left in the dark after large tree limbs or uprooted trees pulled down poles and wires.

So, the traditional folklore life of Reilly (depending on whose spelling you believe), which means living the good life, a charmed life or living the dream, was not what Riley brought to the region two weekends ago. Nor would anyone choose again, even for a few hours, that life experience of sitting in a motionless vehicle or a darkened house.

Riley wasn’t a devastating storm, but it is worth noting it as the historic weather event it was – and for how it crippled traffic and disrupted the electricity that is a basic element of modern life.

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