Snowmelt, rain leave area roads flooded

High water closes dozens of streets, strands drivers

December 12, 2003|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Streams swollen by heavy overnight rains, mild temperatures and rapidly melting snow rose out of their banks across the Baltimore region yesterday, causing minor flooding that closed low-lying roads, doused a few businesses and inundated acres of fields and woods.

Nearly three dozen roads in Howard and Baltimore counties were blocked by flooding, and Howard authorities worried for a while as a rising Patapsco River threatened to soak lower Main Street in Ellicott City.

At least three area motorists had to be rescued after trying to cross flooded roads. And a state trooper was injured in Elkton when his cruiser skidded in standing water and hit a tree.

With more rain or snow forecast this weekend, there's a good chance that 2003 will gurgle away Dec. 31 as the wettest year on record in Baltimore.

More than 60 inches of precipitation have been recorded at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. That's less than 2 inches shy of the record 62 inches that fell in the city in 1889. The annual average is less than 42 inches.

The National Weather Service predicted that more rain or snow would move in tomorrow evening and continue into Monday morning.

Nobody needs it. Well over an inch of new rain -- closer to 2 inches in some areas -- has fallen over the past two days. Combined with fog and mild temperatures, the rain triggered a rapid meltdown of the snow remaining from last weekend's twin storms. With the ground saturated by seven straight months of wet weather, the runoff headed straight for the rivers and creeks.

The weather service issued warnings yesterday for flooding, mostly minor, along streams from New York to Virginia. In Maryland, that included stretches of the Potomac River, which was expected to rise several feet above flood stage this morning at Point of Rocks and Little Falls.

Flood warnings were also issued yesterday for parts of Washington, Frederick, Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard, Carroll and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City.

The weather service warned motorists that most flooding deaths are caused by driving across flooded roadways. Nonetheless, emergency workers in Howard County had to rescue a motorist whose car stalled in a flooded Columbia street, while Baltimore County firefighters retrieved two people under similar circumstances.

Howard County activated part of its emergency operations center as the waters rose early yesterday. "We saw levels higher than what we saw during Isabel," said spokeswoman Victoria Goodman.

Main Street in Ellicott City was closed temporarily as a precaution, but the Patapsco did not flood. Other hard-hit areas included lower Elkridge and roads along the Triadelphia Reservoir.

Baltimore County authorities closed a number of roads along the Patapsco River. There were other street closings along Western Run in the northwestern part of the county, near the Gwynns Falls in Villa Nova and North Point, and near the Jones Falls in Stevenson.

Some streets in the Glen Arm area near the Gunpowder River and Loch Raven Reservoir also were blocked by floodwater.

In Carroll County, 300 children got the day off from school because of flooded bus routes, while Route 75 in Union Bridge was closed when 2 feet of water surged across the road and into nearby businesses.

In Cecil County, state police said Trooper Ronald Prematta Jr. was chasing a speeder on Old Elk Road in Elkton just before 9 a.m. yesterday when he hit a patch of standing water and spun into two trees, shearing off the front of his cruiser. Prematta was treated at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore and released.

Wendy S. McPherson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Geological Survey, said the Patapsco River rose 8 feet yesterday at Hollifield in western Baltimore County. The Monocacy rose 13 feet and was nearing flood stage at Jug Bridge in Frederick County.

The Gwynns Falls near Liberty Road and the Baltimore Beltway rose 7 feet in about 12 hours. Its flow rate jumped from about 50 cubic feet per second Wednesday to more than 2,200 cubic feet by dawn yesterday.

More than two dozen rivers and streams in Maryland -- from the Savage River in Garrett County to the Pocomoke on the Eastern Shore -- were running at record highs.

"With all these high stream flows we might have a record December [freshwater] flow into the Chesapeake," McPherson said. "And if we have a record December flow, we may break the all-time record for total flow into the Chesapeake Bay."

High freshwater flows add to nutrient pollution in the bay, increasing the likelihood of algae blooms that rob the estuary of oxygen. Increased sediment from the flow can also bury bay grasses vital to wildlife.

Since recordkeeping for the bay began in 1937, the highest annual flow was in 1972, much of which came from Tropical Storm Agnes.

Sun staff writers Ellie Baublitz, Andrew A. Green and Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.

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