OCEAN CITY – A band of severe thunderstorms, complete with torrential downpours that dumped an estimated four inches of rain on the resort, rolled through the area on Monday afternoon, flooding streets, stranding motorists, sending beachgoers scrambling for cover and even disabling a large head boat full of passengers two miles offshore.
Storms complete with lightning, high winds, heavy rains and even hale are commonplace in Ocean City in the summer and their possibility is a fixture on the daily weather forecasts during the dog days of late July and August. However, the storm that rolled through late Monday afternoon was the most severe in recent memory in terms of intensity, by many accounts.
The National Weather Service said shortly after the storm had passed as much as four inches of rain had fallen on coastal Worcester County and, judging by the volume of water in the streets of Ocean City, the estimation was accurate. Of course, a time-honored tradition in Ocean City in the summer is to get in one’s car and go somewhere the second the first drop of rain falls, but on Monday, most motorists should have stayed off the roads, according to Ocean City Police Public Information Officer Mike Levy.
“We were told it was four inches of rain in 45 minutes. That’s unheard of,” he said. “The roads flooded very quickly and there were some issues that turned up. Vehicles stalled, a lot of motorists were stranded in their vehicles. It was just a mess out there for a couple of hours. Whenever you have that much water that quick, there are bound to be problems.”
After the storm subsided, the streets remained flooded in certain trouble spots for hours after the last drop of rain fell. In the downtown area around St. Louis Ave., which is known to flood during even a modest storm, as much as two feet of water remained in certain areas. At the intersection of St. Louis Ave. and 3rd Street, for example, cars continued to plow through the intersection with water half way up the doors with plumes six feet high or higher trailing behind.
Several drivers that took a chance and plowed through the water didn’t make it and their stalled vehicles littered the roadways, compounding an already difficult traffic situation. In other flooded areas nearby, out of the way of traffic, kids frolicked in waste-deep water as if they were in the shallow end of their favorite pool, and more than a few boogie boards, rafts and other floatation devices were utilized in the streets.
Of course, many of the motorists were already on the streets when the storm hit, going about their normal daily business, but many already in their motel rooms, apartments and homes decided to venture out in the storm. Levy said the latter group should have heeded the warnings and stayed off the roads.
“We really need people to practice common sense when these storms come up,” he said. “There are so many ways to get the information. There are television and radio reports. We have a Twitter page with warnings posted all the time. People need to listen to the police, listen to the beach patrol and use their heads. Just ride it out until the storm subsides. You’re on vacation. There isn’t anything that pressing that you have to get out in your car during a storm like this.”
While police and the town’s Emergency Services were handling their share of storm-related problems on the roads, the beach patrol had a different set of problems to deal with. Despite advanced warnings and the obvious blackening skies, many beachgoers simply don’t want to leave the beach and resist warnings. Fortunately on Monday, no injuries were reported although the sturdy lifeguard stands were tossed around like toys in the strong winds.
“In all my years, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin, who has spent several decades patrolling the beach. “Our lifeguard stands are 300 pounds and they were just blowing over.”
Out in the ocean, a different sort of storm-related problem developed when the popular headboat “Judith M” was struck by lightning, which disabled its electronic systems including its radio. Cell phone calls from the vessel alerted the Coast Guard and Maryland Coast Towing, which responded and eventually towed it in to its home at Bahia Marina.
“Thank goodness nobody was hurt,” said Greg Hall of Maryland Coast Towing. “We went out to tow it in and the Coast Guard sent their big boat out with us, largely because of the number of people on board. There were 46 passengers, not including the crew, and all of them had their life preservers on when we got to them. Nobody was hurt, but more than a few were a little scared.”
Hall said the lightning strike disabled the vessel’s electronic systems. He said the boat’s engines continued to work fine, but the crew really had no control over it.
“It was basically dead in the water,” he said. “The engines were running, but they couldn’t put them in gear.”
Hall said he has seen what lightning strikes can do on the water in the past and was happy Monday’s incident had a happy ending.
“Lightning is insidious when it hits boats,” he said. “I’ve seen it shoot down a wire and blow a hole out of the hull.”