Bertha loses steam, does little damage Eastern Shore takes brunt of storm: gusty winds, 5 inches of rain

New England is next target

Weakening system is downgraded to a tropical storm

July 14, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Dail Willis, Michael James and Brenda Buote and the New York Times News Service contributed to this article.

Tropical Storm Bertha drenched Maryland yesterday, with winds and rain spawning a few possible tornadoes but never gaining enough strength to turn it into a memorable weather event.

Though it may have ruined some weekend plans, Bertha fizzled as it passed over the Chesapeake Bay. By late afternoon, Baltimore perked up under partly sunny skies.

Worst hit was the Eastern Shore, with steady winds at 40 mph and strong gusts clocked at more than 70 mph. Up to five inches of rain were reported.

But there was very little damage at Maryland's popular beach resort, said Clay Stamp, Ocean City's emergency management director. "We were very fortunate," he said.

Most areas in Maryland just received some rain and wind -- all pretty harmless except for the rare flood or the occasional downed tree. No fatalities or serious injuries were reported.

"Actually, we can get stronger winds than this just in a typical winter storm," said Jim Wiesmueller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "I wouldn't characterize it as terribly severe."

The storm was heading toward New England last night, losing some of the power that ripped roofs off houses with 118 mph winds and forced the evacuation of oceanfront resort towns in South and North Carolina.

Ten deaths have been blamed on Bertha in the Caribbean and United States.

The first Atlantic hurricane of the season, Bertha had folks in Maryland on edge as it trekked up the coast. What Maryland got was a much less aggressive version of the storm that began a week ago in the Caribbean.

It hit here for roughly six hours between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m., prompting flash-flood warnings, tornado watches and a message from Gov. Parris N. Glendening urging Marylanders to be careful.

Possible tornadoes were reported in Rose Haven in Anne Arundel County, in Charles and Calvert counties in Southern Maryland, and in King George County in northern Virginia.

More than 80,000 people across Maryland lost electric service during the storm -- but sudden, violent thunderstorms that typically hit the region at this time of year can be even more damaging, said BGE spokesman Art Slusark.

BGE hoped to restore power to 3,900 remaining homes by late last night, he said.

Resort damage is light

The storm left Ocean City with lots of vacancy signs but very little damage. City emergency workers said some buildings lost shingles and a few tree limbs fell on power lines in isolated areas. People were swimming in the ocean by 2 p.m.

Early yesterday, it was a different story. Although the day brightened by the afternoon, the tropical storm put the Baltimore area into a rain-drizzled funk.

Radio waves buzzed with storm warnings while the occasional dog-walker rushed past, hunched under a raincoat. Around the Inner Harbor, colorful flags ruffled under cold gray skies, murky harbor water slopped onto the waterside pavilions and a banner reading "Coming Soon: Bay Breeze" flapped wildly outside an empty storefront.

At H & S Bakery near Fells Point, workers had to get the bread out before dawn, even though a steady rain flooded one of their trucks and left some of the early risers wishing they had stayed in bed.

"It was coming down -- I mean really coming down -- when I was driving over here," said Carl Hamlin, 36, a mechanic from northeast Baltimore who got to work just as Bertha got to Baltimore.

"I've been soaking wet out here," he said as he watched his last shipment of bread go out shortly after 6 a.m. He declared the day a soggy success.

Surf's up

The bad weather actually was a plus for more than 100 surfers, who ignored overcast skies along Eastern Shore beaches and gave the churned-up waters a go. Who cares that today's weather forecast calls for partly sunny skies and temperatures in the high 80s? Why wait to hit the water?

"Surfers love hurricanes," said Steve DiGirolamo, 31, of Bethany Beach, Del., after he surfed in waves up to 6 feet at Indian River Inlet.

"It's the only time we get any really good waves around here."

Too weak to write itself into the annals of weather history, Bertha still managed to make a mess out of Eric Dohogne's leisure time. The storm rained on his vacation weekend in Annapolis.

No matter -- he's taking a trip next week. There's just one problem: The hotel in Emerald Isle on North Carolina's Outer Banks may not be there; that beach was one of the hardest hit in the Tar Heel State.

"That's the only twist to it," sighed Dohogne. "It was standing right in Bertha's path."

Although Maryland only got the dregs of Bertha, it still took some work to make sure life carried on as usual.

Bill Coates, an Anne Arundel County Public Works Department employee, toiled all night Friday to make sure downed tree limbs were cleared from the streets.

It took 10 cups of coffee and help from his co-workers, and Coates was relieved that his job was done by 8 a.m.

"It sometimes gets dangerous at night," said Coates, 49. "You can't see nothing at night. You've got to use your truck headlights just to figure out what's out there."

Coates didn't think Bertha was so extraordinary -- only three weeks ago, he was up all night clearing roads for a rather ordinary thunderstorm.

Unfulfilled anxieties

In many cases, the thought of the much-hyped Bertha was scarier than the actual storm.

Jay Corcoran stood guard aboard his 34-foot sailboat, which he bought just hours before the hurricane began heading toward his narrow boat slip.

But the first night on the boat, No More Trouble, turned out to be just that. In the end, all he felt was gentle rocking.

"It was really a very peaceful night," he said. "Relaxing."

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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