As the mud dries in our historic Ellicott City, we begin again to assess the damage and rebuild our town (“We rebuilt Ellicott City before, and we can do it again. Should we?,” May 29). Since 1817, Ellicott City has endured 16 floods. These come in two basic types: (1) the Patapsco River rises due to a tropical storm or other widespread rain event; (2) water from an extreme local rain event just upstream tears through Main Street, creating the catastrophic damage we all witnessed this past weekend.
We've seen this movie before, just two years ago. Now, as then, we heard the flood described as a 100 to 1,000 year event. We have also heard, now as then, the damage blamed on bad storm water management in Howard County over the past 20 years of upstream property development. Yet the historical record belies both of these arguments.
Ellicott City endured a flash flood in 1952 that Wikipedia describes as an "8-foot (2.4 m) wall of water [that] swept the shops of Ellicott City." Another such flash flood occurred in 1956. The National Geologic Survey record of floods in the United States documents both of these catastrophes and records the underlying weather events behind them. These weather events were similar to the ones that triggered the 2016 and 2018 flash floods.This history makes flash flooding in Ellicott City look like more of a few-times-in-a-century event. And with two floods before all that development and two afterward, there is no observable correlation between the incidence and severity of flash floods in Ellicott City and the build-up of Howard County in past half century. It's just the cost of being Ellicott City where Ellicott City is.
After each of the previous 15 floods we have rebuilt. I believe the current flood will be little different in that respect. For every poor soul who just can't stand to go through it again, another will jump at a chance to have an Ellicott City storefront at a discount. Rebuild we will, just as California rebuilds after its earthquakes and Oklahoma rebuilds after each tornado.
God Bless Ellicott City and the brave souls who make it what it is!
John T. Keimig, Ellicott City