High Tidal Surges Bring Floods to the Mid-Atlantic Region

Coastal communities in the Mid-Atlantic states remained under flood warnings or advisories on Saturday as they surveyed the damage from the large, slow-moving storm that doused areas of the region and brought some of the highest tidal surges of the past two decades, according to meteorologists.

The storm and flooding affected cities and towns along northern coastal Virginia up through the Chesapeake and Delaware Bay areas, to coastal New Jersey. Waters surged into the cities of Annapolis, Md., and Alexandria, Va., and waterways surrounding the cities of Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia swelled.

Up and down the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, homes and businesses flooded and coastal roads were submerged, turning some coastal areas into islands. But the surges were not as damaging as some forecasters had feared. In Baltimore, the Inner Harbor was underwater on Friday night, but by Saturday, people in the area were back out walking their dogs and sitting on benches.

“We got very close to having some more significant issues,” James Wallace, director of the Baltimore City Office of Emergency Management, said, adding that the effects of the flooding were less severe than feared thanks to wind speeds dying down around high tide.

Widespread precipitation brought one to two inches of rainfall to much of the Mid-Atlantic area, with as much as four inches in isolated areas along the I-95 corridor.

The intersection of Union and King Streets in Alexandria, Va., was inundated with water from the Potomac River on Friday.Credit…Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock

Flooding could continue through Sunday into Monday morning in some areas, said Kevin Witt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. As of Saturday afternoon, there were no reports of storm-related fatalities.

In downtown Annapolis, residents sloshed through a couple feet of water on Saturday morning. The water had receded overnight, from a peak of just below five feet, according to David Mandell, deputy director of the Office of Emergency Management.

Maryland’s capital city, which lies on the Chesapeake Bay, confronts regular tidal surge flooding, which prompted the city to develop a pumping system to prevent high-tide flooding. But it was no match for Friday night’s surge.

“We’re used to flooding, and this is kind of flooding beyond that,” Mr. Mandell said.

Around midnight on Friday, Mayor Gavin Buckley of Annapolis paddled along downtown’s Dock Street on a kayak, surveying the damage to restaurants and stores. Floodwaters had overflowed sandbags at the doorways to many businesses, causing “extensive” damage that Mr. Buckley worried would have an economic toll.

“We’re only just recovering from Covid, so a lot of those business are only just getting back on their feet,” Mr. Buckley said.

The Japanese Pagoda sculpture on the Tidal Basin in Washington was partially submerged on Friday as water rose.Credit…Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The surge fell far below the record-setting Hurricane Isabel in 2003, which inundated the city with over seven feet of storm surge. But it’s the highest level of flooding the city has experienced that didn’t stem from a hurricane, Mr. Mandell said.

The storm’s severity was caused by a confluence of the high tides, the wind and the rain. “The whole magnitude of all of those factors made it kind of unusual,” Mr. Witt said. Coastal flood records were broken along the shores of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay in Solomons Island and Straits Point in Maryland, and Dahlgren, Va.

High tides also caused water levels along the Delaware River and upper Delaware Bay to approach some of their highest points on record. High winds along parts of the Atlantic coast peaked at around 60 miles per hour, according to Alex Staarmann, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, bringing down some trees and power lines. In New Jersey, about 4,000 households remained without power on Saturday.

The storm came just days after a Nor’easter battered coastal New England with hurricane force winds, cutting electricity to hundreds of thousands of households. Thousands remained without power in Massachusetts on Saturday.

Mr. Witt said the storm was part of a pattern of stronger storms affecting wider areas that were driven by climate change.

From 2000 to 2015, the incidence of high-tide flooding in the Mid-Atlantic doubled to an average of six days per year from three days, according to a 2018 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We are on the front lines of climate change,”Mr. Mandell said of Annapolis. “We see it routinely.”

JoAnna Daemmrich contributed reporting from Annapolis, and Maria Morales from Baltimore.

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