OCEAN CITY – As weather forecasters debate whether or not Hurricane Joaquin will have any significant impact on the Eastern Seaboard, local officials are preparing for a wet weekend and potential heavy rains and flooding.
The National Weather Service predicts that a cold front could drench the region in almost 11 inches of rain over the course of the weekend, regardless of the track that Hurricane Joaquin takes.
“It’s still too early to tell what is going to happen,” said Ocean City Engineer Terry McGean, “but we will be prepared for it.”
Wednesday’s forecast had Joaquin passing by the Delmarva Peninsula around 2 a.m. on Monday morning, but the tropical moisture that the storm is carrying, coupled with the cold front, has significantly increased the precipitation predictions for the weekend, making this a much more likely rain event than anything else for many planned events in Ocean City and surrounding areas, such as the H2Oi automotive and Sea Gull Century biking event.
A Moving Target
Victor Mooney, the 49-year-old Brooklyn man who has received national attention for his 15-month quest to row across the Atlantic Ocean to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS research, is still stuck in Ocean City waiting for Mother Nature to allow him to embark on the final leg of his journey.
“I’ve seen storms like these before, and I know what they are capable of,” said Mooney this week from his Ocean City hotel room. “As a rower, I try to avoid being on the water anywhere from 48-96 hours before the system hits, and due to the north/northeast winds and the precipitation forecasted, I have to sit tight. Then you throw in the tropical storm, and I’m definitely here until at least Tuesday.”
Mooney has taken the time in Ocean City to rest, and begin work on a book that chronicles his epic journey.
“The Harrison Group was so kind to me and set me up in a nice hotel since I docked here”, said Mooney, “despite the weather, it’s been exactly what I needed to get ready for the last leg of the trip.”
Downtown Flooding Always A Concern
Despite Joaquin’s track, the low-lying areas of downtown Ocean City are undisputedly the resort’s most vulnerable spot during intense storms, or even heavy rainfall for that matter.
Gary Steger’s family has owned property in that area of the resort for over 100 years including a rental property on Dorchester Street they have had since 1962.
“I renovated that place a few years ago after Superstorm Sandy, but I used to have watermarks on the wood paneling to show how high the water rose in that building during the major storms,” said Steger. “During the 1962 storm, we had 21 inches of water inside. During Hurricane Gloria in 1985, we had 17 inches of water, and during Sandy, we had 19 inches.”
Steger says rising flood waters have always been a concern for his personal and rental properties downtown, but he’s never thought of leaving.
“It’s just a part of life,” said Steger, “We have sandbags to stop the wakes created by the cars passing by and pushing the waters into our front doors, since they are all only as high as the top of the curb on the street-but no, we’d never leave, we just hope the weather doesn’t scare our renters away.”
This past July, to help curb the flooding downtown, the Ocean City Mayor and Council approved a Hazardous Mitigation Grant from MEMA (Maryland Emergency Management Agency) to purchase 14 backflow preventers (at a cost of approximately $70,000 — $53,000 of which was picked up by MEMA) to help stop tidal waters from the bay piling onto rainwater that was trying to empty the city streets through storm-water drains.
“They will help significantly,” said McGean. “Unfortunately, we don’t have them installed yet, but essentially, what they do is ensure that the stormwater flows off the streets, and the tidal bays don’t back up onto the streets. In the past, the storm-water has nowhere to go because the bay is backing up through storm piping and causing an even bigger flooding problem.”
The backflow preventers will be installed bayside between South Division and 4th streets.
Glenn Irwin, executive director of the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC), believes the “preventers” will be effective, especially in helping strengthen the resort’s proverbial “Achilles heel” during storms.
“The older buildings in that part of the downtown are very prone to flooding during storms,” said Irwin, “but many of them have survived through all the major storms Ocean City has had over the past 100 years. OCDC has done over 170 façade improvements downtown and we manage three properties for the town that have flooded in the past. It’s always a big concern.”
During Superstorm Sandy, Irwin says one of the buildings near Somerset Street that took in a significant amount of water has since been demolished and turned into an interim parking lot.
“Many other buildings that have historically flooded have been elevated since Sandy, so we are doing our best even though that part of downtown Ocean City has been known to flood even during a regular rainstorm,” said Irwin. “There’s nowhere for all that water to go.”
City On Weather Alert
In the meantime, town officials have sent out precautionary messages about the potential inclement weather Joaquin could create, but remain far from the proverbial panic button.
“We are watching the storm, and we do expect something from this storm as far as impact, but we don’t know how much yet,” said Ocean City Communications Manager Jessica Waters. “What people should do now is earmark the informational sites we run through the city, and know what zone and division you are in, because if we have flooding or worse, we’ll be sending messages about flooding and property damage to property owners by zone and division.”
Zones and divisions are determined by location and vulnerability to flooding.
For more information regarding storm preparedness, please visit: http://www.ready.gov/hurricanes.
Sign up for Town of Ocean City Wide Emergency Alerts by visiting: http://oceancitymd.gov/enews and subscribing to “City Wide Emergency Alerts.”