Significant Flooding Along East Coast is Expected


Hermine roared through communities along the Atlantic coast on Shabbos, battering beaches from the Outer Banks to the Delmarva Peninsula with blustery winds and rain but sparing many areas inland.

Up to seven inches of rain fell and 30-to-60 mph winds blew from North Carolina to the Eastern Shore, chasing vacationers and disrupting Labor Day weekend plans as the country bade farewell to the summer season.

The center of the fast-moving storm, hurrying to the Northeast, was expected to be off Chincoteague Island, Virginia, on Sunday, and possibly resume hurricane strength in coming days.

The National Weather Service posted storm warnings and watches as far north as Cape Cod, and officials said they were concerned about flooding from Sunday morning’s high tide, around 10:30 a.m.

“There is still considerable uncertainty as to how many of the characteristics of a tropical cyclone Hermine will have while it is off of the coast of the Mid-Atlantic and New England,” the National Hurricane Center said Saturday.

The storm has a rather elongated circulation, the hurricane center said: “Regardless of its structure, Hermine is expected to be a vigorous storm with a large wind field that will cause wind, storm surge and surf hazards along the coast.”

Indeed, Hermine was downgraded from tropical storm status Saturday morning.

By Tuesday, it was forecast to be stalled over warm water in the 80s southeast of Long Island, National Weather Service senior meteorologist Luis Rosa said.

“The system will begin to slow down . . . and by Monday, it’s not going to move much,” he said. “It’s going to be sitting over water temperatures that are supportive of hurricane formation.”

Meanwhile, offshore, from the Baltimore Canyon to Cape Charles, Virginia, waves as high as 37 feet were expected Sunday, with visibility a mile or less, the Weather Service said.

A hurricane warning was issued for the open ocean off southern New Jersey and Delaware, with winds approaching 75 mph Sunday night.

On shore, the threat of storm surge and flooding loomed all along the coast, especially in southeastern Virginia.

“One of the biggest concerns . . . is the onshore wind flow that is likely to persist into the coming week,” noted Ian Livingston of The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.

“As the storm slows down, thanks to a high pressure to the north blocking its path out to sea, winds rotating around it toward shore will continue to pile water into the coast,” he reported Saturday. “Major beach erosion . . . dangerous surf, torrential rain, and serious coastal flooding are all likely.”

“Surge levels will be high everywhere but will also vary a bit,” he added. “In the Hampton Roads area, surge is expected to be between three and five feet. Similar [surge] is anticipated from Chincoteague to Sandy Hook, N.J.”

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) issued a state of emergency Friday ahead of the storm. During a news conference Saturday, he said a lot of wind and rain was expected. Already, there was a three-foot surge at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

In Maryland, a state of emergency was in effect for Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico, Worcester, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties.

Ocean City Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald and state Sen. James Mathias Jr., D-Somerset, said that Sunday morning could see significant flooding if water from high tides is unable to get back out to sea because of strong northeast winds.

Theobald said the flooding this time will fall just short of what the city had four years ago during Hurricane Sandy. He doesn’t expect that anyone will need to evacuate. There’s only one restriction currently: The city has ordered everyone to stay out of the ocean.

Meanwhile, gusts on the boardwalk here Saturday were so strong that walking north was difficult, and a southbound stroller was propelled by wind.

Sand blew off the beach, onto the planks and into the teeth of those out and about.

The beach was largely deserted, but dozens of vacationers had ventured onto the boardwalk.

A few shops were open, and old-timey photos, hermit crabs and buckets of Fisher’s popcorn were available.

At Guidos Burrito, employees shouted at rain-pelted passersby: “You guys want burritos? Tequila?”

Employee Shelby Gardiner, 22, said the water in the street on her half-mile walk to work was already high enough that she had to roll her leggings up.

Many of the hotels were almost full despite the forecast, and several vacationers said they came in the hope that the storm would miss Ocean City. They also noted that their reservations were nonrefundable.

Susan Lynch Jones, the executive director of the Ocean City Hotel Motel Restaurant Association, said the city’s hotels were approximately 85 percent occupied.

Six of the 13 members of the extended Fisher family, here from the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area for their annual trip, stood huddled in sweatshirts, watching the angry waves of the ocean they had hoped to play in.

“Hey, Mommy,” 6-year-old Chase Fisher said. “We could get the movies out! We’ve got a Christmas movie.”

It seemed the only way to go.

That’s what Dana Muchmore, from New Jersey, was in for, too. Her 12-year-old son tried fishing but quickly discovered that wasn’t going to happen.

Standing in front of a shuttered boardwalk amusement park, where the Ferris wheel was still turning, Muchmore said she was still happy to enjoy the boardwalk restaurants and the time out of town.

“You’ve got to make the best of it, I guess,” she said.

Elsewhere, Diane Steigen, 53, said: “I have to go to the shoreline!”

And without a moment of hesitation, she and her husband, Jeff, 48, set off down the wooden walkway to the ocean. The wind made it hard to keep a steady footing, but the Baltimore couple hurried unfazed into the water.

“There’s that sea foam I wanted to see!” Diane said. The windblown froth coating the shoreline felt like whipped cream, she said.

Three women from Delaware and Maryland who all work at a facility for adults with special needs were also having a great time on the beach despite being pelted by the sideways rain.

“I am being beat up by my poncho,” Patti Roark, 62, laughed as the plastic whipped her face in the wind.

Tish Hall, 49, said the other two had dragged her out there. “I think it’s amazing,” she said. “I’ve never experienced this. I’ve always hunkered down somewhere safe and warm.”

The women said they would go right into the ocean if it weren’t for the city employee in an orange jumpsuit with a whistle nearby. His job was to keep people out of the water.

So the three were content to stand on shore, shouting over the wind and crashing waves.

(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Julie Zauzmer, Michael E. Ruane