Though Joaquin moved out, northeastern winds drive flooding

Rawlings-Blake on Hurricane Joaquin: "We definitely dodged a bullet."

Wind and rain from a stalled weather pattern led to flooding in coastal communities in Maryland on Saturday, but the state avoided worse from Hurricane Joaquin, which drifted out to sea.

"We definitely dodged a bullet," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Saturday afternoon. She praised residents for stocking up on batteries, water and food supplies ahead of the hurricane, which previous forecasts had put on a course to come ashore in the Mid-Atlantic.

"We were prepared for the worst and prayed for the best," she said.

Saturday saw minor flooding in low-lying intersections and in some neighborhoods prone to flooding in and around Baltimore. Ocean City was keeping a close watch on flooding in low-lying areas there, closing streets and parking lots as water moved in.

"We are monitoring at each high tide, and so far there has been no significant reportable damage," Bill Lubeck of Ocean City's community emergency response team said midday Saturday. "Just flooding in the usual areas when the tide comes up."

The flooding was not related to Joaquin, but to a weather pattern of strong northeastern winds "piling up some of the water" in the bay and causing unusually high tides, according to Matt Elliott, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"We've been stuck in this stagnant pattern really since Tuesday," he said. "And we don't see this pattern really breaking until we lose this easterly flow, sometime late Sunday into Monday."

Through the rest of the weekend, the Baltimore region will likely be spared heavy downpours like those seen Friday, Elliott said, but will remain overcast, with light rain or drizzle.

An emergency declaration remained in place for Baltimore City, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland. Gov. Larry Hogan had declared a statewide emergency Thursday, when Joaquin appeared ready to barrel up the Chesapeake Bay, but rescinded it Friday for Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Western Maryland.

The latest forecasts suggest Joaquin will pass several hundred miles from the coastline, threatening Bermuda as it tracks northward. The storm remained a dangerous Category 4 cyclone with 150-mph winds north of the Bahamas, according to the National Hurricane Center.

About 200 people didn't let the threat of bad weather stop them from turning out for a day of service in Baltimore put together by Civic Works. Volunteers planted flower bulbs and trees, cleaned parks and vacant lots and improved schools in neighborhoods across the city.

It was a little damp and a bit cold — which was perfect for many of the projects.

"Planting bulbs and pulling weeds is a lot easier when the ground is wet," said Dana Stein, executive director of Civic Works.

Others in the state saw the rain and high tides as a chance to rest.

Rather than confront the whipping northeastern winds and high tides, a team of environmentalists on a 500-mile kayaking trip around the Delmarva Peninsula decided to take a break and dry out for a few days on Smith Island — where they received a warm welcome in the small watermen's town of Tylerton.

"I don't think we could be in a better community to have these days off, because the people we've been meeting have been so friendly and welcoming," team member Alex Crooks said Saturday.

Crooks borrowed a couple of board games from Capt. Larry Laird, the Smith Islander who has run the ferry to Crisfield for 30 years.

"We're dry, warm, very comfortable, with full bellies of Smith Island cake," said Stephen Eren, another kayaker on the trip.

The team from Upstream Alliance, a nonprofit that works to train the next generation of bay environmentalists, has been on the move since early last month — traveling in sea kayaks, mostly within 100 feet of the coast, on a trip mirroring another taken 10 years ago by Don Baugh, the group's founder, and Tom Horton, a professor at Salisbury University and former writer for The Baltimore Sun.

Baugh said the purpose of the repeat trip was to see what's changed in the last decade — which, it turns out, is a lot: the "almost exponential changes to the coast, the shoreline erosion, as the result of sea level and as a result of storms."

The high tides this weekend were a perfect example, he said.

Laird said Saturday was just another rainy day on the island.

"It ain't got nothing to do with the hurricane. It's the nor'easter wind," he said. "We ain't got what you'd call hit hard. We've had some flooding but not that much. It ain't nothing that we ain't been used to."

Laird stopped running his ferry on Thursday. He hoped to resume service as early as Sunday.

"I ain't been doing nothing but watching TV and eating," Laird said. "I'd rather be going than doing nothing."

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials warned of potential power outages, and called in additional tree and overhead line crews. With the soil saturated, state officials warned, even minor winds could knock over trees and cause outages.

Customers, including those with smart meters, should report outages or downed wires to BGE at 877-778-2222, the utility said. City residents should call 311 to report down trees or branches.

krector@baltsun.com

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