Harford likely to be spared by Hurricane Florence

After fears early this week that Harford could get pounded by wind and rain from Hurricane Florence, on top of an already soggy spring and summer, it appears the area will be spared, county officials said.

Emergency officials were in full-on planning mode for what could have been one of the more serious storms Harford has seen in years, but a change in the forecast is keeping Hurricane Florence to the south and many of the events scheduled for this weekend — Oktoberfest, the Susquehanna Running Festival and Bel Air Festival for the Arts — are going on as planned.

“Mother Nature has had her say. After some of the weekends we’ve had, we’re glad folks will have a chance to celebrate,” Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for Harford County Government, said Thursday.

Some of Harford’s biggest events have been hampered by rain this summer — the Farm Fair, which dealt with thunder and rain almost daily, the Bassmasters Elite that was canceled altogether because of debris coming through the dam and the Barbecue Bash, Mumby said.

Harford isn’t, however, off the hook entirely. The county still stands to see 1 to 2 inches of rain over the next few days and county officials are urging residents to heed the warnings about standing water and to still be prepared in the event Hurricane Florence takes a different turn.

Whatever is left of Hurricane Florence is expected to roll through the Maryland area Tuesday morning, bringing with it heavy rains.

Harford is expecting a lull in the rain this weekend, officials at the National Weather Service reported to emergency planners just before noon Thursday.

“The wraparound could come back with rain next week and there could be incidents of isolated flooding along the coastline,” Mumby said.

The county’s advice remains the same.

“We always urge folks to have a plan in place, an emergency kit, that perhaps they created in anticipation of this hurricane,” Mumby said. “Keep it handy for the next time you need it.”

She urged Harford residents to stay in touch through the county website and social media.

That Harford won’t be hit as hard as initially forecast is a relief, she said.

“Not just because this looks to be a massive hurricane, but it could have been compounded on the soaking spring and summer,” Mumby said. “Streams have swelled, soaked the ground and additional rain combined with wind had the potential for mass power outages we’re always concerned about. It may be inconvenient for some, but life-threatening for others and when they’re widespread that causes us grave concern.”

Havoc on the schedule

The forecast for Hurricane Florence created a host of uncertainty for the big events planned in Harford this week, and on the high school football schedule.

All but six of the seven games originally scheduled for today were played a day earlier, on Thursday, in anticipation of the storm. The only game being played tonight is the John Carroll-Bel Air football game that is part of the Battle of Bel Air weekend in high school sports.

The annual Aberdeen Proving Ground Oktoberfest celebration, set for today and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day, remains scheduled and will go on rain or shine, barring any drastic change in forecast weather, APG officials said, including the Career Fair on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"Rain or shine I look forward to seeing everyone come out as we celebrate with German vitality and liveliness and an American spirit that won't be dampened," Oktoberfest host and APG Senior Commander, Maj. Gen. Randy S. Taylor said. "The iconic fest tents are symbolic of the Oktoberfest experience and provide shelter as well. Come join the fun. I love the rain, and it rained nearly every Oktoberfest I attended while stationed in Germany."

Like everyone else, APG officials are closely monitoring Hurricane Florence and will be prepared to adjust scheduled events if necessary. For updated information, visit the APG Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/APGMd/.

The gun will sound at 8 a.m. Saturday for the first Susquehanna River Running Festival, expected to draw nearly 1,500 runners for the half-marathon, half-marathon relay and 5K, in Havre de Grace.

A handful of people registered for the race deferred their entries until next year, because of the uncertainty of the weather, but many others who were waiting to see what the forecast would be have signed up since, and registrations will be accepted the day of the race, Dominic Corson, one of the organizers said.

“Unless there’s some unforeseen event, we’re still racing,” Corson said.

The 53rd Bel Air Festival for the Arts, always a rain or shine event, is also going off as scheduled.

“At this time, the Bel Air Festival for the Arts will be held as usual, Sunday, Sept. 16th. If conditions cause the status of the event to change, it will be posted here and at www.belairfestival.com,” organizers wrote on their Facebook page.

The Independence Day fundraiser carnival in Havre de Grace scheduled for Wednesday through Saturday was canceled earlier this week, however, because of fears of operating big pieces of equipment in high winds.

It is being rescheduled for Oct. 25 to 28, Havre de Grace Director of Administration Patrick Sypolt said.

It may be a little chilly, he said, but organizers plan to create a Halloween/fall/autumn theme to make it more fun.

Residents appeared to be worried about the hurricane’s potential, as well.

Grocery story shelves were emptied earlier this week of the standard necessities — milk, toilet paper, batteries and water. Sarah Klein, of Klein’s ShopRite, said it reminded her of a snowstorm.

“People seem to be taking this a little more serious than I thought,” Klein said Tuesday. “I didn’t think it would happen this soon.”

‘Just a practice’

In anticipation of severe weather today and Saturday, the county began getting organized Monday, with a meeting of numerous local agencies from county government, law enforcement, the health department, utilities and others, Mumby said.

“We had a window of warning. We gathered Monday and reviewed our plans, our staffing availability and issued our reminders to the public about things they might not think about until they’re faced with rushing water,” she said. “We created an incident support plan in anticipation of a more serious impact. It’s there and can be activated at any time, if needed. Hopefully, this was just a practice round.”

Havre de Grace feared a storm surge up the Chesapeake Bay, similar to the one caused by Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

With that threat diminished, city officials are concerned about wind, Sypolt said.

“If we get it, and it doesn’t even have to be tropical, with the number of leaves on the trees and the ground so soft, I’m concerned the trees will just start to go,” Sypolt said.

He reminded residents that just because Hurricane Florence doesn’t appear to be a bad storm, hurricane season isn’t over.

“We’re not out of this yet,” Sypolt said. “We viewed this as a great drill, keeping us sharp.”

While Harford may be spared, government leaders are keeping an eye on the storm and its victims to the south, Mumby said.

“On behalf of our citizens, we know the county executive is relieved, but our thoughts and prayers are with our fellow American citizens who it looks like will be hit pretty hard,” she said. “The picture looks better for Harford County, but we still have concerns for our fellow citizens and we are certainly keeping them in mind.”

Harford employees could be called upon to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence through mutual aid agreements in place regionally, Mumby said.

“I know Harford County has responded in the past to national incidents, and the same would be true if we are called upon,” she said.

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