First came blizzards, now comes rain, look for flooding next

Flood watch: with snowmelt-soaked soil, water has nowhere to go

March 13, 2010|By Frank D. Roylance

Free at last from February's record snows, Marylanders face what could be record rainfall and potential flooding this weekend.

Flood watches were posted statewide as a slow-moving coastal storm gathered strength Friday and prepared to drive heavy Atlantic moisture onshore overnight and through most of today.

Forecasters expected the heaviest rains overnight and today, with at least 2 inches to 4 inches falling before ending Monday. Some locations could see 5 inches or more - more than a month's rain in one weekend.

The deluge arrives at a particularly bad time for Maryland. Soils are saturated from the snowmelt, and creeks and streams are already swollen.

"There is a threat for small streams and creeks to flood, to go out of their banks during the heavy rain," said Brian Lasorsa, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Baltimore-Washington Forecast Office in Sterling, Va. And as those waters reach the larger rivers, "that does pose a significant threat for river flooding."

Western Maryland and the Potomac River face particular risk as this winter's deep snowpack on the Allegheny plateau continues to melt.

"The river flooding may very well be similar to January of 1996," Lasorsa said, referring to historic floodwaters that raged down the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers as heavy snows melted in 60-degree weather. There was extensive damage.

For smaller rivers and creeks, he said, a better comparison would be the weeklong rains in June 2006, which forced thousands to evacuate low-lying areas. Six Marylanders died, including two Frederick County boys who drowned after leaving home to watch flooding in Little Pipe Creek.

Richard Muth, executive director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, urged Marylanders to "follow local weather forecasts and take appropriate steps if they are in areas subject to flooding. And, most importantly, if you see standing water in a roadway, do not attempt to cross. As little as 6 inches of swift-moving water can move a vehicle downstream."

Baltimore public works spokesman Kurt L. Kocher asked city residents to "help us prevent your neighborhood from flooding by sweeping the gutters and alleys to be sure the trash doesn't flow into the bay, or lay on top of the drains," clogging them. For help with stopped drains in the city, dial 311.

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