Limited Ocean Swimming Likely This Weekend

OCEAN CITY — As
Hurricane Earl roars just a few hundred miles off the Eastern Seaboard, the
question in the back of many people’s minds is: will the storm merely delay
Labor Day weekend or will it ruin the resort’s last big summer weekend
completely?

Town officials say they
know that today is going to be a lousy day in Ocean City as the effects of
Hurricane Earl are scheduled to be felt throughout the region by way of 40-50
mph winds, and at least an inch or two of precipitation until approximately 3
p.m. on Friday.

However, town officials
have been preaching the “sun will come out tomorrow” mantra, as the rest of the
weekend’s forecast is sunny skies, and 80-degree temperatures.

“We hope that visitors
will watch the storm from their homes on Friday, and start their trip after the
storm passes by Ocean City around 3 o’clock,” said City Engineer Terry McGean.
“It will be bad here for about 12 hours, and we have planned for the worst, but
we are hoping for the best based on Earl’s path that we’ve been monitoring all
week.”

Emergency Services
Director Joe Theobald told the Mayor and City Council on Tuesday that if the
storm stayed on its current path the impact on Ocean City will be minimal.

“Earl is certainly a
very strong hurricane, and it is supposed to be out about 250-275 miles from
our shore, but if it comes any closer, the impact that we feel here in Ocean
City will be greatly enhanced,” said Theobald. “We are going to have some heavy
surf, dangerous rip currents, and we will probably sustain some moderate beach
erosion. But if the current path stays the same, the effects will be minimal in
Ocean City. If it gets within 150 miles of the shore, all bets are off.”

Theobald and McGean both
likened Earl’s projected impact in Ocean City to a winter Nor’easter and
neither expect the hurricane to create a “flooding event” or cause the town to
have to trigger its evacuation plan at any point.

McGean also noted that
the city’s dune system, which had been partially destroyed by a major
Nor’easter last November, has been fully repaired and is ready for the Earl.

“The dunes are in good
shape and are back to the same coverage and protection that they provided prior
to the November storm last year,” said McGean. “The Army Corps of Engineers are
scheduled to build up the beach width on Sept. 21 with a scheduled dredging, so
if we do sustain additional beach erosion with Earl, we are confident that we
can repair the damage almost immediately.”

Town officials spent
Wednesday morning making the final departmental preparations for the storm, and
Governor Martin O’Malley and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
have been in contact with the city to pledge support if Earl hits harder than
expected. Theobald said all departments are ready to go.

Still, Mayor Rick Meehan
is optimistic that Hurricane Earl will not be anything close to a catastrophic
event.

“This could be the best
case scenario for this storm in regards to Ocean City if it stays the way the
forecasts are telling us,” said Meehan. “The storm is moving very quickly and
Thursday night and Friday morning are not big travel times, so we think that
the storm will be here and gone, and people will come when it is over. The
weekend is supposed to be beautiful, so we aren’t trying to panic anyone, but
we are being responsible in getting ourselves prepared.”

Public Works Director
Hal Adkins said that the biggest challenge on his end is to make sure that when
people wake up on Saturday morning, they won’t even know that Hurricane Earl
passed through the day before.

“With events like this,
we are really looking beyond the storm and setting up a plan to make sure that
we can clean up all the sand and the debris that will undoubtedly be blown
around the beach and the Inlet parking lot,” said Adkins. “The sun is going to
come out on Saturday, and we want to make sure that everything that Earl leaves
behind is gone.”

Lieutenant Ward Kovacs
of the Ocean City Beach Patrol said big waves started to hit the Ocean City
coastline sporadically on Wednesday, and that lifeguards are enforcing a
“knee-waist deep” rule for swimmers.

“For us, we aren’t too
concerned with Friday because we hope that people will be smart enough to stay
off the beach while the storm is hitting us,” said Kovacs, “but on Saturday and
Sunday, it’s going to be bright and sunny and people may think that it’s fine
to swim as they normally would. But, there’s still going to be remnants of that
storm kicking up big waves and rip currents, so we think we’ll probably be
pretty busy this weekend with pulling people out of the water.”

 

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