Rains break dry spell, plans

Dousing relieves farmers, creates problems for others

October 09, 2005|By BRADLEY OLSON AND JASON SONG | BRADLEY OLSON AND JASON SONG,SUN REPORTERS

Heavy weekend rains abruptly ended an autumn drought but caused headaches for many Maryland residents, leaving thousands without power, flooding roads and basements, triggering accidents and bringing a spate of event cancellations.

After a nearly six-week stretch in which the Baltimore area experienced no significant rainfall, the region was walloped by a torrential downpour that brought nearly 7 inches of rain over two days to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. That exceeded the average monthly rainfall for October and broke the city's previous two-day record, according to the National Weather Service.

The slow-moving storm, brought on by the remnants of Tropical Storm Tammy and a cold front, had left about 15,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers without power yesterday afternoon. The number had dropped to about 4,700 yesterday evening. The rains also prompted several voluntary evacuations in Baltimore and outlying areas.

In Harford County, about 50 people were evacuated south of the Broad Creek Dam in Darlington, which was overflowing through midafternoon yesterday, as well as in the Forest Hill area near Deer Creek, officials said.

Flood warnings were to end early this morning around the state, including in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The rain caused numerous cancellations and postponements as well, including the 20th annual Maryland Million at Laurel Park and the final leg of the Tour of Hope in Howard County, where superstar cyclist Lance Armstrong was slated to ride.

The weather service was forecasting occasional rains today, tapering off this afternoon. The Columbus Day Parade, which dates to 1890, will continue as planned today in downtown Baltimore, event organizers said yesterday.

Several major roadways surrounding the Jones Falls Expressway were shut down as firefighters evacuated small pockets of residents and workers in areas near floodwaters. Road closings surrounded much of the Mount Washington and Woodberry areas, including Mattfeldt Avenue, Falls Road at Northern Parkway and Clipper Mill Road near Druid Hill Park.

Under the expressway near Union Avenue and Clipper Mill Road, Woodberry residents left without power gathered to watch a swift, churning current in what is normally a small creek with a few feet of water.

Rob Marra stood bewildered as he watched the water creep up toward the Meadow Mill Athletic Club, where he works as a personal trainer.

"It's amazing to see what Mother Nature can do," he said.

Suzanne Viscarra couldn't get to her job at Monotype Composition, a textbook printing house, because the parking lot around her office was flooded. Having seen TV reports about the rain, she came with a swimsuit top and rain gear.

Harford County called for voluntary evacuations in some low-lying areas, officials said. Authorities there rescued eight horses and 15 goats from a farm at the north end of the county and at least two horses from a field near Edgewood.

The rain also flooded numerous roads throughout the state, said David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration. Buck estimated that state workers had responded to more than 100 accidents as of yesterday afternoon and still had to clear trees that had fallen in roads.

"It's been a long day and it's going to be a long night," Buck said.

The rain made the track at Laurel Park almost as impassable as some roads and led to the postponement of the Maryland Million race. The event will take place Saturday.

"We are extremely disappointed with the action we had to take as a result of the torrential rain we received," said Lou Raffetto, chief operating officer for the Maryland Jockey Club.

In Howard County, officers shut down around 10 minor roads in low-lying areas after they flooded, said Maj. Bill McMahon, deputy chief for the Howard County police.

Homeowners also were feeling the effects. Leah Stene, who lives in a new housing development in Ellicott City, said mud and water swept down the hill she lives on and flooded two new homes recently built below her home.

"I watched the backyard of the house below us have a massive mudslide," she said.

But the rain was good news for farmers who have anxiously watched the sky for the past two months while their crops withered. Before this weekend, the state had slipped into its worst drought since 2002, with BWI recording 0.67 inches of rainfall since the last weekend in August.

"We needed this rain, definitely," said Joan Baugher, owner of Baughers fruit stand in Ellicott City, "but it could stop for a little bit."

Baugher has already harvested all her crops, but many farmers who had been worried about the effect of the drought on late soybeans, winter grains and other crops, were relieved.

"I figured it would take some kind of rain or tropical storm like this to break us out of that pattern, and that's what this rain probably did," said Joseph Bartenfelder, a farmer and Baltimore County councilman, taking a break from pumping water out of his mother's flooded basement.

He is growing collards, kale, broccoli, cabbage, spinach and turnips that he didn't think were going to make it because of the unusually dry fall. Now, it looks like they will.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

jason.song@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Rona Marech and Phillip McGowan contributed to this article.

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