Charley to bring a wallop of rain to Md.

State braces for floods, power outages, gusts

August 14, 2004|By Dennis O'Brien and Stacey Hirsh | Dennis O'Brien and Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Maryland braced for the remnants of Hurricane Charley amid predictions it would dump 3 to 6 inches of rain beginning today and could cause flooding and tornadoes.

Charley isn't expected to strike the state the way Tropical Storm Isabel did, but it could knock out power and endanger people and their property, including livestock. The hurricane is expected to weaken by the time it reaches Maryland.

Planning for the effects, public works crews cleared storm drains, emergency management officials monitored weather reports and customers filled home supply stores. Baltimore officials urged residents to help clear debris from the city's 33,000 storm drains and suggested they stock up on bottled water and flashlights.

Amtrak stopped long-distance train service between New York and Miami but said it would continue to run its Northeast Corridor service between Boston, Washington and Newport News, Va.

At Home Depot stores in the Baltimore area customers bought tarps, portable vacuum cleaners and generators, said Jim Emge, district manager for the company.

About 270 generators were being delivered last evening; one store sold 25 and had 25 people on a waiting list, apparently worried by memories of power outages from past storms.

"The increase of sales of generators is pretty dramatic," Emge said.

Charley is expected to bring 25 mph winds and gusts of up to 30 mph, said Steven Zubrick, a weather service meteorologist.

Hydrologists said that heavy rains in recent weeks have saturated the ground, increasing the chance for flooding in many areas. About 9 inches of rain fell last month in Maryland, about three times the normal amount for the month, said Gary Fisher, a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

He said if the rain falls in short, heavy downpours, it could cause major flooding in some areas. But if the rain falls slowly and steadily, flooding should be minimal.

National Weather Service forecasters shifted their projected track for the storm yesterday afternoon, placing the center of the storm in Crisfield today. It's expected to pass through much of the Eastern Shore as it heads north.

But forecasters warned that Charley's path could shift toward Baltimore as it moves north and that rain and wind will be a problem either way.

"Certainly, flooding is going to be a problem," said Bernie Rayno, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, a private forecasting service.

Memories of Isabel

Comparisons with Isabel were inevitable yesterday.

Isabel dropped 2.2 inches of rain at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in September, but its strong winds - gusts of 70 mph were reported - knocked out electricity to 1 million homes in Maryland and created a storm surge from the Chesapeake Bay that flooded dozens of communities.

"Isabel was a much more powerful storm," said BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy.

The utility, which spent $70 million restoring power and cleaning up after Isabel, put 750 utility workers on standby yesterday in case of power outages.

The National Weather Service predicted that Charley would dump 3 to 6 inches of rain in many areas beginning this afternoon, but 8 inches is possible in isolated areas. A flood watch was issued yesterday afternoon for Ocean City, Dorchester and Somerset counties and inland portions of Worcester County.

In Ocean City, officials removed trash barrels along the boardwalk to prevent them from blowing away in the storm. Ocean City planning staff reminded contractors to secure any loose equipment or materials at work sites.

"We'll be watching this storm pretty closely all weekend," said Richard "Buzzy" Bayles, emergency management planner for Ocean City.

Marinas, merchants and local officials spent yesterday preparing for the storm.

Jim Rehak, owner of the Atlantis Marina in Edgewater, kept his eye on the Weather Channel. He said his crews have secured the marina's floating docks and other equipment susceptible to damage in strong winds.

"I really don't anticipate this to be as bad as the last one," he said, referring to Isabel, when water levels rose 5 feet. "But we're going to have water over the bulkheads I guarantee you."

Along Baltimore County's 175-mile waterfront, "there is no great sense of urgency," said John Polek, owner of Sunset Harbor Marina on Norman Creek and president of the county Marine Trades Association, a group of 77 marina owners and other waterfront businesses.

`Fairly normal'

Giant Food said some of its stores were experiencing heavier traffic, but that it wasn't creating the same frenzy that Isabel and major snowstorms have.

"At some of our stores we see heightened activity as people buy candles, batteries and bottled water," said Barry F. Scher, Giant vice president of public affairs. "In other stores, it's fairly normal."

A Safeway spokesman said it was business as usual.

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