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Dayhoff: Carroll County does emergency response well thanks to lots of practice

We have a history of natural disasters in Carroll County, including snowstorms, floods, tornadoes and fires. These present the greatest danger to public safety, health and welfare in our area.

According to an article in the Times last week by Mary Grace Keller, the “fast-moving storm that charged through Carroll County on Friday morning was indeed a tornado, the National Weather Service (NWS) said, adding that it damaged buildings, downed trees and caused ‘erratic damage’…

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“On Friday night, NWS confirmed five tornadoes had touched down in the area in the morning. There also was an EF1 tornado in Frederick County near Monrovia; an EF0 tornado near Boyds and an EF1 tornado near Dickerson, both in Montgomery County; and an EF-1 tornado in northeastern Cecil County…”

In Westminster there was considerable damage to an eight-block area of town. Response by the Westminster Fire Department — and allied agencies from throughout Carroll County and neighboring counties — was swift. The fire service was assisted by the Westminster Police Department, the Westminster Street Department, and additional staff from throughout Westminster and Carroll County governments, the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, and Baltimore Gas and Electric.

Historically, the month of February is a horrible joke that has been foisted upon us. This, in spite of the fact that Feb. 24, St. Matthias Day, is by tradition, understood to be the luckiest day of the year.

According to research by the Historical Society of Carroll County, “The January 27, 1922 issue of the Union Bridge Pilot newspaper mentioned St. Matthias Day: ‘… Another bit of old weather lore comes February 24, St. Matthias Day. According to the old saying: ‘If St. Matthias finds ice he'll break it. If he finds none, he'll make it.’”

Regarding Carroll County’s history of natural disasters, many have occurred in February. As far back as Feb. 19, 1893, a tornado destroyed the steeple at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ at the corner of Green Street and Bond.

According to research by Judge Joe Getty in a very lengthy article written for the Historical Society of Carroll County a number of years ago, the February 1893 edition of the now defunct Democratic Advocate provided the following details of the storm.

“A violent storm, approaching the force of a hurricane, passed over this city and a portion of this county on Sunday night last…” The 1893 article reports, “Smith Hall, the north wing of the principal building of Western Maryland College, seems to have received the full force of the tempest and was unroofed and damaged to the extent of probably a thousand dollars.

We do emergency response well in Carroll County because throughout history we have been given many opportunities to practice. A short list of events includes the Great Westminster Fire when, on April 9 and 10 1883, an entire section of Westminster, from John Street to Carroll Street along Main Street, burned to the ground.

On June 19, 1952 at 4:45 p.m. a storm destroyed the St. John's Roman Catholic Church steeple on Main Street. More recently, on May 23, 1979, a tornado came through the same section of Westminster and caused a good bit of damage.

Hurricanes and flooding are also a problem in Carroll County. Beginning on June 21, 1972, 13 inches of rain from Hurricane Agnes fell in a 48-hour period and caused extensive flooding damage. Around Sept. 26, 1975, Hurricane Eloise caused widespread flooding damage.

From May 2002 through March 2003 Westminster had various water restrictions as a result of one of the worst droughts in Westminster history. The drought of 2002 was followed in 2003 with one of Westminster’s wettest years on record, surpassing a record set in 1889. Precipitation in 2003 totaled 62.56 inches.

From February 15-18, 2003, 28.2 inches of snow fell on the City of Westminster in what has become to be known as “the Presidents Day Snowstorm.” Up until that time, it was the worst snowstorm in Westminster’s history. A total of 34.6 inches of snow fell in February that year.

The year 2003 also witnessed it rain for 91½ hours straight during Hurricane Isabel. As many as 38,000 folks in Carroll County lost power in the Sept. 18 and 19 storm.

Then, on July 26, 2003, a 50-foot by 60-foot wide, 30-foot deep sinkhole swallowed the intersection of West Green Street and Anchor Street.

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Times correspondent Kevin Dayhoff also serves as a fire and police public information officer. In the past, he has written extensively about emergency response. Portions of this discussion have been previously published. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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