Eastern Shore expected to be spared worst of Hurricane Bonnie's damage Storms expected to move northeast today away from Ocean City area

August 28, 1998|By Frank D. Roylance and Chris Guy | Frank D. Roylance and Chris Guy,SUN STAFF Staff writers Tom Horton and Dan Thanh Dang contributed (( to this article.

For the third day in a row, it was hurry up and wait in Ocean City.

As Hurricane Bonnie approached after drenching North Carolina, tourists in the Maryland resort hurried to get in a few more hours on the beach. Nearby, emergency crews waited to trigger storm management plans they've been refining for most of the week.

The National Weather Service upgraded Bonnie from a tropical storm back to its original hurricane status at 11 p.m. when winds hit 75 mph on the eastern side of the storm, which was off the coast of Norfolk, Va.

Clay Stamp, Ocean City's emergency management chief, said that because the storm will pass so far from Ocean City, it will bring only get winds of 35 mph to 45 mph and gusts of up to 50 mph overnight.

He said the storm is expected to bring only wind, showers and thunderstorms before it moves out of the Ocean City area by midday today and head northeast.

Across the Eastern Shore, Marylanders seemed to exhale with relief late yesterday as Bonnie seemed to lose some of its strength. It was downgraded for much of the day to a tropical storm.

Forecasters said there was a small chance the storm would regain hurricane strength as it moved back over the ocean.

"I feel a lot better than I did a couple of days ago," Stamp said. "Thirty-five to 40 mile-per-hour winds, that's nothing."

The threat of strong gusts and tropical downpours continued, and a flood watch was issued for the southeastern part of the state. But any serious sense of peril on the Eastern Shore seemed to be weakening along with Bonnie.

"A couple inches of rain would be good for the crops. Some of the corn is looking sort of tired," said Butch Kinerney, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. "It may be a blessing for Shore farmers here."

Maryland disaster officials felt confident enough to send one of their own to North Carolina to help coordinate the federal response to storm damage there.

"To coordinate the whole national effort -- that's pretty cool for us," said Butch Kinerney, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

Blocked to the north by a cold front, the storm was expected to veer northeast and pass 80 to 100 miles east of Ocean City's beaches by early today. Maryland officials were expecting 2 to 4 inches of rain.

"The main problem is going to be getting the rain through the storm drains fast enough," Kinerney said. Ocean City work crews have spent the past several days cleaning the drains to make sure they run freely.

A change in course to the west could also bring the center of Bonnie directly onto the Eastern Shore. That would mean higher winds and heavier rains.

"Historically, once they're north of the North Carolina-Virginia line, all these storms pick up speed and blow on out to sea," Kinerney said. "It's always possible we could see this storm creeping northward and stall over our area. But I don't think that's likely."

There was a lingering risk from tornadoes the storm might spawn as it churns toward the sea.

Tropical storm warnings -- signaling the approach of winds of 39 mph and higher -- were posted on the ocean beaches as far north as Watch Hill, R.I. On the Chesapeake Bay, warnings extended as far north as Smith Island and the Maryland state line.

Most of the 250 residents of Smith and Tangier islands who were evacuated voluntarily around noon Wednesday by the U.S. Coast Guard returned home yesterday.

Janice Marshall of Tylerton stayed there. She said the island had not even experienced a worrisome high tide. Winds were expected to increase to 15 or 20 mph overnight, but nothing islanders would consider dangerous, she said.

"Heck, that's just a good huntin' wind," said Denny Crockett, principal of the Tangier High School.

"What storm?" laughed Police Chief Victor Rayne of nearby Crisfield, population 2,800. "We're concerned and we're alert, but hopefully we won't get a lot from this storm." Just in case, his 15-member department was on standby.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Geological Survey is prepared for heavy rains. As part of a regional, interagency effort, field crews from the USGS Maryland/Delaware District have been dispatched to monitor stream flows into the Chesapeake.

They were set to measure water levels, and the volume of water flowing past stations on selected rivers and streams. That information was to be passed to local officials charged with issuing flood warnings and evacuation orders.

USGS personnel were also to take water quality samples on the Pocomoke, Wicomico, Manokin and Transquaking river basins.

"The amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus that are carried from the land under high stream flow conditions may be helpful in shedding some light on the causes of possible future Pfiesteria outbreaks in these areas," officials said in a prepared release.

The approaching storm toyed with vacationers in Ocean City yesterday. Gray skies parted occasionally for breaks of sunshine. The humid air felt extraordinarily tropical. Beaches were open and 6- to 8-foot waves were attracting swimmers, but they were urged not to venture in beyond waist-deep water.

Marylanders' comfort level with Bonnie's approach does have a down side. "It certainly builds complacency for the next storm," Kinerney said.

"I don't want to say people aren't paying attention," he said. "They certainly are paying attention. And we don't want to get to the point where we're crying wolf, either. But the conventional wisdom is that one of these days Ocean City is going to get hit hard, and any time a storm like this comes up, it could be the time."

Pub Date: 8/28/98

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