On Sunday, May 27, thunderstorms pounded the Baltimore region for hours. The storm morphed Old Ellicott City into a deadly flood zone. Here’s how it happened. (Baltimore Sun video)
On another day, a cold front headed toward the Baltimore area from Frederick might not have been anything to worry about.
But when it arrived Sunday over Ellicott City and Catonsville, the accompanying slow-moving rain storms had mixed with tropical moisture overhead from the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Stuck in place by the cold front, the “training thunderstorms” — they follow one another like train cars -- pounded the region for hours.
The Hudson and Tiber tributaries, already at or near capacity from a rainy few weeks, came raging straight down Main Street, sending parked cars into buildings, carrying away a National Guardsmen attempting to rescue a shop owner and destroying the historic district again, less than two years after the fatal flood in 2016.
The following timeline of the flooding shows just how quickly the rain morphed Old Ellicott City into a deadly flood zone.
3:15 p.m. In the first wave of the storm, rain begins falling in earnest, according to meteorologist Brian LaSorsa.
3:30 p.m. People begin to post videos and photos on social media of floodwater streaming along the curbside and car tires splashing the water as they drove through the pouring rain.
4 p.m. An estimated 1-2 inches of rain have fallen in Ellicott City and Catonsville. An impassible torrent of water rushes west down Frederick Road toward the historic district. Parking lots in Old Ellicott City begin to flood.
4:23 p.m. Several feet of powerful floodwater — the likes of which haven’t been seen since the 2016 flood — rip through the district, sending residents into a panic and carrying anything in its way down toward the Patapsco River below.
“STAY AWAY,” Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Libby Solomon tweets in all caps. “DO NOT DRIVE TO MAIN STREET.”
4:34 p.m. Max Robinson, who lives nearby, posts videos of several feet of debris-littered brown water rushing past his door.
“Hey guys I almost … died lol,” he tweets.
4:50 p.m. Peak rainfall begins, drenching Ellicott City with 3.8 inches of rainwater over the course of the next hour, according to the National Weather Service — the equivalent of more than three feet of snow.
Water rushes into basements and quickly begins flooding the first floors of Main Street’s shops and restaurants, trapping people in the upper floors. Outside, the street is submerged and waves of water are hammering the exterior walls of buildings, ripping out windows.
4:55 p.m. The Howard County Department of Fire and Emergency Services announces that rescue operations are under way amid “flooding in Ellicott City rivaling the flooding incident in 2016.”
“Swift Water Rescue teams assembling,” the department tweets. “Avoid downtown Ellicott City area to enable rescuers to gain access.”
5 p.m. The flood is rushing down the street like whitewater rapids, and parked cars are beginning to float.
5:15 p.m. A second storm begins hammering Ellicott City and continues for the next hour, dropping 2-3 more inches on the already flooded district, according to LaSorta, the weather service meteorologist.