By Kevin Rector and Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun
7:27 AM EDT, September 19, 2012
A string of severe storms brought heavy rain and high winds through the Baltimore region and the East Coast on Tuesday, flooding homes and streets, knocking out power to thousands and forcing local school officials to cancel afternoon activities.
Flash flooding was reported in Columbia and a foot of water covered National Pike in Woodlawn. Waterfront homeowners on Millers Island in Baltimore County saw their streets flooded as water poured over concrete bulkheads along the Chesapeake Bay, through their yards and into their basements.
"It's not fine, but it happens," said Don Budacz, a Millers Island resident since 1986, as he watched his street flood from his driveway. "You can't move every time you get a little bit of rain or a little bit of flooding."
Budacz said he and his wife, Carolyn, planned to spend Tuesday night on higher ground, at their daughter's home in White Marsh. But of the water threatening their home, he said, "If it comes, it comes. What are you going to do?"
Come it did, with the strong storm system sweeping through much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, from North Carolina to West Virginia to New York, with the National Weather Service issuing a tornado watch through multiple states for much of the day.
The storm system caused damage up and down the East Coast, according to news and weather service reports. Thousands lost power in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, as trees were toppled and power lines brought down. The Washington Nationals game against the Los Angeles Dodgers was rained out, as were games hosted by the Yankees and Mets in New York.
The weather service also issued multiple warnings and watches for flash and coastal flooding, and severe storms through different parts of Maryland. A high-wind warning was issued at the Bay Bridge.
Winds in the Washington region topped 60 miles per hour, while some parts of Maryland saw nearly two inches of rain in a matter of hours.
Officials in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties canceled after-school activities, while Charles County instituted a liberal leave policy for county employees.
The storm also contributed to a hectic commute.
According to Terry Owens, a Maryland Transit Administration spokesman, the weather caused a tree to fall across the Brunswick Line near Garrett Park, delaying MARC trains an hour.
Problems with signals along the Penn Line, the MTA's busiest, forced trains to slow down significantly, causing delays of up to two hours, Owens said. Officials believe the signal problems may be weather-related, but are not sure.
Owens said he hopes that the train system will be running normally by Wednesday morning.
Strong winds from the south bringing up moist air toward an approaching cold front caused the storms, said Bryan Jackson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. The dynamic produced what he called a broken line of storms that brought heavy rains and a burst of wind passing through fairly quickly, with some places possibly being hit by two separate lines of storms, he said.
Weather service officials did not detect or see any reports of tornadoes despite the watch, Jackson said.
While the storm's heavy rains were forecast, Jackson said, the rain gauge total was slightly lower than expected at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
There, 0.41 inches of rain fell during an afternoon downpour, while a total of 0.58 inches fell as of 5 p.m., when much of the storm system had passed through the region. Forecasts had called for up to two inches of rain, but the heaviest rains were to the west of Central Maryland. At Hagerstown Regional Airport, 1.91 inches of rain had fallen Tuesday as of 5 p.m.
Wind gusts topped out at 47 mph at BWI, while Washington's Reagan National Airport recorded 61 mph, Jackson said.
On Millers Island, waves crashed against concrete barriers at the rear of Matt Smith's waterfront home on Chesapeake Avenue. About six inches of water pooled along the street out front.
A stream of water passed through his side yard, and water was already leaking into his basement, steadily being pumped out.
Still, Smith and other residents along the street — which saw multiple homes destroyed by Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003 — said they remained largely unfazed.
"As long as you're a little disciplined and you put your stuff away, the loss isn't too significant," said Smith. He has lived in his home for four years and said he has seen worse flooding than Tuesday's multiple times. "I think everyone puts it in perspective."
Don Peyton, whose in-laws' home next door was destroyed by Isabel, agreed. "I don't anticipate anything, although we didn't anticipate Isabel either. But that was different."
The National Weather Service reported a foot of water over National Pike in Woodlawn, utility lines down in Westminster, and downed trees across the region. It also reported flash flooding near Centennial Park in Columbia.
Local emergency officials ran patrols through vulnerable neighborhoods as downpours sporadically lashed the area, and Red Cross representatives drove through Millers Island talking to residents about their preparations for remaining safe.
The caution seemed appropriate, as the bay — just feet from some homes — rose and fell dramatically and sent sprays of water deep into some backyards. The choppy waters were just one of many visible signs of the high winds rushing through the area.
Dave McWilliams, who lives on Second Street on the Back River side of Millers Island, said a number of his neighbors called him from work Tuesday afternoon to see how the neighborhood was fairing. He told them things remained under control, that the water was standing in certain areas prone to flooding but didn't seem to be creeping into higher ground.
"A lot of this is just surge from the waves, because the wave action is so heavy," he said, pointing to the standing water on Chesapeake Avenue.
Smith, whose home was virtually surrounded by water, said such September nights just come with the territory.
"It comes with the benefit we enjoy the whole summer living here," he said. "You get the good with the bad."
At a Glance
•0.58 inches of rain and winds up to 47 mph at Baltimore Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport as of 5 p.m.
•1.91 inches of rain at Hagerstown Regional Airport as of 5 p.m.
•Winds up to 61 mph at Washington's Reagan National Airport as of 5 p.m.
•More than 29,000 BGE customers lose power, with all but about 500 restored as of 7:30 a.m.
•After-school activities canceled in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties
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