Frederick County is bailing out from this week’s deluge of rain and preparing for the next one, as well as its aftereffects.
Hurricane Joaquin strengthened on Thursday to a Category 4 — the second highest level on a scale of 1 to 5 — meaning it has sustained winds up to 130 mph. The increase prompted Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to declare a state of emergency.
“While we’re hoping for the best, we’re preparing for the worst,” Hogan said at a news conference broadcasted on C-SPAN.
Frederick could see another 2 to 4 inches of rain through Saturday in what National Weather Service meteorologist Howard Silverman referred to as “Round II” of a series of storms projected to hit the East Coast.
“I think what our focus should be here is not on the exact track of the storm,” Silverman said. “Even if it takes one of the easternmost range of possibilities, the East Coast of the United States is still set up to see a lot of rain. ... Residents at this point should be preparing for heavy rains this weekend, regardless of the track.”
On top of roughly 5 inches of rain that fell on the city in just a few hours Tuesday night, the effects of additional rain could only worsen the widespread flooding that many residents woke up to on Wednesday.
“We were in a dry period up until that point, which helped a little bit, but we really haven’t had a chance to absorb that moisture,” Silverman said. “There hasn’t really been any chance for any sunshine.”
Mayor Randy McClement said estimates indicate that 80 percent of the city of Frederick was hit with 5 inches of rainfall in less than two hours.
McClement also said that though isolated flooding did occur, the drainage system installed as part of the Carroll Creek park project lessened the accumulation.
“Contrary to some rumors, the Carroll Creek flood system absolutely worked the way it was supposed to,” he said.
Ground saturation was a concern for power company crews, said FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Meyers, who called the combination of soft, wet ground and heavy winds “a recipe for poles coming down.” FirstEnergy has used the calm before the storm to muster its resources, he said.
“We’ve notified all the dispatchers that we have, and all the storm analysts that we have, including the one you have there on East Patrick Street ...,” he said. “In addition to those folks, the line crews, substation electricians, our forestry people — they’ve all been put on notice that they may be out there doing 16-hour days until power is restored.”
The energy company contacted companies out of the direct path of the storm with whom it has shared resources in the past. It requested 2,000 line workers on standby, ready to deploy to FirstEnergy’s service area if things get too big to handle. As of Thursday, 900 workers were pledged, Meyers said.
Frederick County Department of Public Works crews were gearing up in each of the department’s six districts. They were checking chainsaws and other equipment used to clear blocked roads and fixing plows to trucks in each district to quickly remove debris if needed, said David Ennis, who heads the department’s Highway and Facility Maintenance.
“We’ve also been cleaning out ditches, making sure our culverts and grates are clear, and then there are a few areas that are prone to flooding, so we’ve pre-positioned barricades, so we can get those roads closed quickly,” he said.
The State Highway Administration was also busy. After monitoring the forecast Thursday, road crews cleared areas along state roadways prone to standing water or flooding, SHA spokeswoman Kellie Boulware said.
Clearing drains, she said, was a main focus for most shops, which were dealing with heavy rain from Wednesday night. Clogged drains led to much of the flooding of basements, businesses and parking lots in Frederick after Tuesday night’s storm.
At Carter Lumber in Frederick on Tuesday, heavy rains caused part of the roof to collapse. Employees were still cleaning up the roof’s debris on Thursday, according to Andy Smith, the store’s sales manager.
“We’re doing what we would be doing anyway,” he said. “It all has to be cleaned and fixed.”
Smith said much of the building’s 150,000 square feet was unharmed by the collapse. Only a small portion of office space — roughly 7,000 square feet — was damaged. Virtually none of the company’s merchandise was destroyed, he said. The business was able to fully function.
Nevertheless, the company removed an air conditioner from the store’s roof to be safe, he said. It brought in an engineer on Thursday to evaluate the building’s structure.
“The water’s going to get in,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do about that. We’re just going to do our best to prepare for it.”
At Home Depot on Urbana Pike, Cathy Menzel, of Frederick, said she was buying extenders for her drain pipes after water poured directly into her basement from her roof on Tuesday.
“It was like ‘bloop,’ straight down into the house,” she said.
Menzel pulled out all of her rain-soaked carpet on Wednesday. She hired a plumber to fix her septic tank.
According to Fort Detrick garrison spokeswoman Lanessa Hill, some cars were submerged in “several feet of water” on post after the storm because drainage areas were blocked by dead leaves. Emergency services staff and public works staff pumped the water away.
Some areas, including Emmitsburg and Walkersville, were spared widespread flooding issues from Tuesday’s deluge. Most towns and municipalities around the county were proactively preparing for Joaquin’s arrival.
Middletown Town Administrator Drew Bowen reported that the town is conducting “normal bad-weather procedures.” This includes checking and cleaning storm drain inlets, checking stormwater management ponds and making sure generators have fuel.
“As always,” he wrote in an email, “plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Myersville also hasn’t had any storm problems this week, said Town Manager Kristin Aleshire, but the town is preparing for the weekend. During the last major storm a few years ago, he said, the town’s sewer trunk line was affected, so the town got money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to relocate it.
“Since the relocation, we have noticed in recent rain events that our flows at our sewer plant are significantly lower,” Aleshire said. “So, good news here.”
Still, Aleshire said, the town is taking precautions. It has contacted its water and sewer operators to make sure the plants are protected, the water towers full, generators ready and contractors on call for pump station problems. Recreational groups were told to move or secure any equipment that could be affected — such as goals or fencing.
Frederick County was still not under a flood watch as of Thursday evening, according to the National Weather Service in Sterling, Virginia, where Silverman is based.
Things could change by the hour, Silverman warned, and — getting back to the bad news — the brunt of Joaquin itself could hit immediately after “Round II” ends sometime Saturday.
“No matter where the storm tracks, we are in for a soggy four or five days,” Silverman said.
Staff writers Sylvia Carignan, Mike Persley, Kelsi Loos, Rebecca Savransky and Nancy Lavin contributed to this report.