The Atlantic hurricane season began last Saturday and already Tropical Storm Andrea is expected to bring heavy rainfall and possible flooding to St. Mary’s County today, Friday, June 7.
St. Mary’s County public safety officials are monitoring Andrea and more flood monitoring systems have been installed since recent hurricanes struck.
A tidal gauge was recently installed at the channel between Piney Point and St. George Island, where Route 249 floods on either side of the bridge during storm surges. The $20,000 grant-funded gauge is remotely read from the St. Mary’s County Department of Emergency Services and Technology in Leonardtown, said Director Bob Kelly. The system is similar to the remotely read system installed at St. Mary’s Lake last summer, which holds 250 acres of water above Great Mills. There was a false alarm during Hurricane Irene in August 2011 that the lake might topple the dam after a foot of rain fell.
Using another $86,000 grant, the emergency services department also bought five road-monitoring cameras last summer to watch for flooding along state roads in St. Mary’s County, but those have not been installed yet.
With the tidal gauge at Piney Point, “we’ll be able to know at what point do we have issues. It will take us a few storms to get it nailed down,” Kelly said, to see what water level causes problems. It’s better to know when to expect when a road floods before a motorist is trapped in rising waters, he said.
High tides can flood Piney Point Road without a major storm. “It’s not an infrequent occurrence that high water causes an issue down there,” he said.
Commission President Jack Russell (D), a resident of St. George Island, said, “It’s nothing for us for some parts to have water across the road,” especially when winds from the northeast or the southeast “blow the water in the bay and they won’t let it get out.”
There are more than 200 homes on St. George Island, Kelly said.
The island was cut off from the mainland overnight by high water during Hurricane Isabel in September 2003, which brought a storm surge of 6 feet. Three years later, the island was ordered evacuated before Hurricane Ernesto struck with a 4-foot storm surge.
Road cameras will be installed soon to watch for other flood-prone areas and key travel routes, Kelly said. Two cameras will be installed at the Route 4/Route 235 intersection, one watching south down Route 235 and the other north up Route 4 toward the bridge to Calvert County. The Maryland State Highway Administration already has a traffic monitoring camera at the base of the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge on the St. Mary’s side.
Another camera will be installed at Route 235 and the Chancellor’s Run Road intersection in California.
The two remaining cameras will be put up at Route 5 near Great Mills Road where the St. Mary’s River sometimes floods and at Route 5 near Newtowne Neck Road in Leonardtown, where McIntosh Run can flood.
“That’s going to happen this summer for sure,” Kelly said. The state has approved the locations, they just need to be plugged into the electrical system, he said. The streaming videos taken by the cameras will be maintained by the Maryland State Highway Administration.
Tropical Storm Andrea, this first of this season, is expected Friday to skirt the East Coast, but not strengthen into a hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center. “We’re in the predicted cone,” Kelly said, and there could be heavy rain and flooding in St. Mary’s County.
Throughout the hurricane season, which runs to Nov. 30, citizens should have an emergency preparedness kit to last three days if the power should go out and people are on their own. If the power is expected to go out, it is a good idea to freeze a bowl of water in the freezer ahead of time to keep frozen foods cold, Kelly said. Visit http://prepare.stmarysmd.com for more information on emergency preparedness.