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Floyd poised to drench Tri-state area

September 15, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

When Floyd blows through town today, it could leave flooded streets, basements and fields.

But state and local officials said Wednesday it will leave something else: the drought.

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Water from hard, heavy rains typical of a hurricane or a tropical storm usually runs off before it can seep down into the ground.

"Believe it or not, even if we get flooding, we still have a drought," said John Verrico, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Forecasters from the National Weather Service said Washington County could get 3 to 5 inches of rain from Floyd, which they predict will be downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm by the time it reaches Maryland.

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The rain, which is forecast to fall between noon and midnight, could cause flash flooding, especially in low-lying areas, said meteorologist Michelle Margraf. Wind gusts in higher elevations could reach 30 mph, she said.

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening canceled an appearance at Frostburg State University for a Cabinet meeting today and will instead monitor the storm from Annapolis. He issued a statewide alert because of potential flooding and damage from the storm.

But the brunt of the storm will be farther east, Margraf said. She said the storm could bring wind gusts of 50 mph to Calvert and St. Mary's counties.

"Your area is going to be spared the worst of it," she said.

Still, some area residents were taking a cautious approach on Wednesday and stocking up on groceries in case they were stuck at home today.

"It's a little busier than normal. The rain always brings them out anyway," said Ron Long, an assistant manager at County Market in Hagerstown. "We've had a lot of big orders."

About 1.09 inches of rain fell on Wednesday, according to the Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer's Web site.

Despite the rain, and precipitation from Tropical Storm Dennis a week and a half ago, Margraf said the Potomac River is in no danger of overflowing.

"That's just thanks to the drought," she said. "In a normal year, getting two tropical systems like this would cause flooding."

Margraf said the rain should help replenish rivers, lakes and other bodies of water that were low because of the drought.

"It will be good for the rivers and reservoirs, but not so good for underground resources," she said.

Precipitation in Hagerstown for the year stands at 29.73 inches, slightly above the normal level of 28.64 inches, according to Keefer. But Verrico said the drought persists because the water tables are low from below-average precipitation last fall and winter.

Verrico said rivers and streams will receive a temporary bump from the rain, but then quickly recede.

"In a very short period of time, that's going to run downstream and wash away," he said. "We told people that we needed a couple of tropical storms, but we didn't mean it literally."

Local officials agreed. Gregory Murray, the director of the Washington County Water and Sewer Department, said water restrictions in the Mount Aetna and Highfield areas will stay in effect for now.

"If we get a couple inches, it's probably not going to do much for us," he said.

Murray said the restrictions for the 500 customers in Highfield likely will remain in place until a new well goes online in about 30 days.

Hurricane Floyd already has inconvenienced some area residents.

School administrators weighed the possibility of school closings. Washington County officials were expected to make a decision by 10 p.m.; Frederick officials said they would decide by 5 a.m.

About 925 commuters from West Virginia and Brunswick, Md., who use the MARC train had to find alternate transportation on Wednesday.

The Brunswick line to Union State in Washington did not run because of a dispatching problem. CSX, which owns the tracks that MARC runs on, dispatches the trains from its center in Jacksonville, Fla.

Frank Fulton, a spokesman for the Maryland Mass Transit Administration, said there were not enough dispatchers because of the hurricane.

The Brunswick line will operate on a special schedule today, officials announced. All trains marked "S" on the schedule will run and stop at every station.

Trains leaving the Martinsburg, W.Va., station will depart at 5:30 a.m. and 6:35 a.m., officials said.

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