Dayhoff: Carroll County has a history of natural disasters

Dayhoff: Carroll County has a history of natural disasters
On June 19, 1952 at 4:45 p.m. a storm destroyed the St. John's Roman Catholic Church steeple on Main Street, where the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library is located today. Debris from the fallen steeple is shown. (Historical Society of Carroll County)

Much of the news in recent weeks has dealt with the horrific impact of Hurricane Harvey after it made landfall on the Texas coastline late Friday, Aug. 25.

Various accounts of the natural disaster include comparisons to past hurricane events in the Gulf of Mexico and Texas — and the United States. The media has been preoccupied with words such "historic," "first" and "worst."


Barrels of ink will be devoted to coverage of Hurricane Harvey, but one fascinating fact stands out. Maryland government and politics reporter Bryan Sears calls to our attention that, according to The Washington Post, "Hurricane Harvey dumped 24.5 trillion gallons of water on affected areas. The Chesapeake Bay holds about 18 trillion gallons of water."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports, "Hurricane Harvey is the first Major Hurricane to strike South Texas since Celia in 1970 ... [And] the first Hurricane to strike the Texas Coast since Ike in 2008 ..."

NOAA reports: "Ike made landfall … Saturday, September 13th (2008) near Galveston, Texas. Ike … produced a damaging, destructive and deadly storm surge across the upper Texas and southwest Louisiana coasts, and will likely end up being the third costliest natural disaster in the United States behind Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Andrew …"

At the top of all lists is the Galveston Hurricane of Sept. 8, 1900, that caused 8,000 deaths according to the NHC. The same report cites "The latest NHC estimate is that Katrina was directly responsible for about 1,200 deaths and it remains the third-deadliest hurricane to strike the United States."

In spite of the fact that weather disasters have been around since the beginning of time, it remains curious that stories about the "firsts and the worsts" of the weather always seem to be "new." A dynamic addressed by the August 2011 NHC memorandum: "Katrina provided a grim reminder of what can happen in a hurricane landfall. Sociologists estimate, however, that people only remember the worst effects of a hurricane for about seven years. … One of the greatest concerns of the National Weather Service's (NWS) hurricane preparedness officials is that people will think that no more large loss of life will occur in a hurricane because of our advanced technology and improved hurricane forecasts."

This complacency is a bit of a nightmare scenario for first responders and folks responsible for our public safety in the community.

As much as folks in Carroll County speak of Maryland winters with dread, much of the conversation in Carroll County in recent weeks has been the suggestion that we are fortunate in Carroll to not be subjected to the vagaries of Mother Nature such as floods, hurricanes and tornadoes.

Well, not so fast. In Carroll County, we do have a history of natural disasters including snowstorms, floods, tornadoes and fires. These present the greatest danger to public safety, health and welfare in our area.

We have also had a number of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms go through. 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 in Westminster.

On June 19, 1952, at 4:45 p.m. a storm destroyed the St. John's Roman Catholic Church steeple on Main Street — where the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library is at today — and lightning struck Westminster City Hall and set it on fire. More recently, on May 23, 1979, a tornado came through the same section of Westminster and caused a good bit of damage.

Since Feb. 19, 1893, there have been more than 20 weather events, in the Westminster and surrounding Carroll County area, which historians refer to as "tornadoes."

Often the storm events follow the same path and start on the southwest corner of the city, around the intersection of West Green Street and Doyle Avenue, now known as Old New Windsor Road. The storms then travel northeast over Belle Grove Square and through the center of town towards the intersection of Md. Routes 140 and 27.

Hurricanes and flooding have also been a problem in Carroll County. In the days following June 21, 1972, Hurricane Agnes caused extensive flooding damage. Three years later, around Sept. 26, 1975, Hurricane Eloise also caused widespread flooding.

Fortunately Carroll County has a history of being well-prepared to deal with public safety emergencies and disasters. Our local fire departments, law enforcement agencies, elected and appointed officials are well-trained and dedicated to our safety.


However, that is never enough. In the end, personal responsibility is our best protection against the vagaries and whims of the forces that wish to do us harm. It is up to all of us to be ever vigilant, plan and be well prepared.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. Email him at