Back-to-back thunderstorms dumped a torrent of rain on Baltimore City and surrounding counties Thursday evening, causing widespread flooding of city streets and some buildings and grounding dozens of flights at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Parts of the region saw close to 21/2 inches of rain between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., a National Weather Service spokesman said.
Emergency calls began pouring into city fire and emergency dispatch centers as streets and intersections filled with standing water, particularly in Fells Point, where water reached people's knees in some areas. Thousands lost power.
Substantial flooding in Fells Point closed multiple streets, forcing cars to stop. The intersection of Caroline and Aliceanna streets was submerged, as were sections of Lancaster Street.
"Regester Street was filled with water, probably at least as high as the curb, and it got deeper as you went toward Aliceanna Street," said Joanne Masopust, president of the Fells Point Community Organization and a Regester Street resident. "And some friends of mine who live around the corner on Aliceanna said the street was pretty much covered."
A section of North Caroline Street near East Madison Street close to Johns Hopkins Hospital was flooded, trapping vehicles in the roadway.
Water poured over ambulance ramps outside Hopkins Hospital's emergency room, seeping into the building before firefighters could respond to clear drains. Gary Stephenson, a hospital spokesman, said the flooding very briefly interrupted normal operations.
Large sections of the lobby ceiling at the Hilton Baltimore downtown caved in from pooling water and left gaping holes. Linda Westgate, the hotel's general manager, said staff were "still addressing what happened" late Thursday.
"No one was hurt, we were able to contain it to this level, and now we're just in the process of cleaning it up," she said, adding that no services for patrons were disrupted.
By late Thursday, the water level in the Inner Harbor had risen substantially, but not to the point of threatening businesses.
"I've seen it higher," said Brian McGeeney, a manager at M & S Grill in the Inner Harbor. "It's getting up there but its not too bad."
After the storms, tree branches, leaves and other debris were scattered through the streets.
As of 11:45 p.m., Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. was reporting that power had been knocked out to more than 23,000 customers, with power restored to nearly 8,200. More than 21,000 outages occurred in Baltimore County and Baltimore City alone.
The weather was the result of a breeze coming into the city from the Chesapeake Bay, caused by a hot day with little wind on land, said Kevin Witt, an NWS meteorologist.
That breeze acted as a front, Witt said, spawning storms in its path.
"And when they developed, they really weren't going anywhere in a hurry because the winds are light," Witt said.
Heavy rainfall in the city between 7 p.m and 8 p.m. came mostly from a secondary thunderstorm that was tracking slowly north to south across the city, Witt said.
"It's moving very, very slowly, and because of that, you can get very heavy rainfall," he said.
BWI reported 60 flights grounded, with delays between a half-hour and four hours.
Other severe weather systems were being tracked in the region as well, Witt said.
A later system moved east through Baltimore shortly before 11 p.m., dropping more rain on the already-soaked city.