By ALIA MALIK, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - A coastal storm hitting the mid-Atlantic region this Thanksgiving will mean danger for Maryland drivers, especially those heading south along the East Coast for the holiday.
"It could have a tremendous impact," said Maryland State Highway Administration spokeswoman Kellie Boulware. "Of course we can clear drains and assist stranded motorists if need be, but we also rely on the motorists themselves to be cautious."
Winds are supposed to pick up along the Eastern Shore today, with some gusts strong enough to blow outdoor furniture around, said National Weather Service forecaster Jennifer McNatt. The heaviest rains on the Eastern Shore will begin tonight and should clear up by Friday, McNatt said, but not before rainfall totals hit around 1.5 inches and some flooding occurs along the coast.
The rest of Maryland should see the majority of the storm's impact on Thanksgiving Day. Southern Maryland, along with the Eastern Shore, will likely be hit the hardest, with up to 2 inches of rain, said Jim Lee, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's office in Sterling, Va., which forecasts and issues warnings for Maryland west of the Chesapeake Bay, excluding Garrett County.
Southern Maryland and Anne Arundel County are prone to flooding from the Chesapeake Bay, Lee said. By contrast, Western Maryland might barely be affected by the storm.
"It will be cooler and wetter than normal this Thanksgiving," Lee said, pointing out that this time of year, the days are usually clear.
More than 2.3 million vehicles are expected to pass through Maryland's toll facilities between today and Sunday, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority. About 382,000 are predicted to cross the Bay Bridge, a dangerous venture in a storm, in either direction.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it was too early to tell Tuesday whether the weather would cause flight delays or cancellations at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
In preparation for the storm, the State Highway Administration is working to clear storm drains of branches and leaves and calling in more patrollers to assist motorists in the event of an accident or stranded vehicle. The administration is also preparing for falling branches.
"All our chainsaws are gassed up," Boulware said.
The storm was already causing minor flooding yesterday in North Carolina, where the rain first began, and flood warnings remain in effect until Thursday evening. It is expected to move north along the coast, causing high winds and possible flooding at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
As time progresses, the National Weather Service's announcements could become official warnings, Lee said.
"I think the biggest thing is that people should check back and be aware," he said.
Most holiday motorists take to the roads the day before Thanksgiving, Boulware said, with a slightly smaller number making their trips the morning of the holiday.
"Hopefully those who will be driving farther will be planning ahead and arriving at their destinations earlier," Boulware said.
But once you're caught in the storm, there's little to do but drive slowly and buckle your seat belt, she said.
Temperatures will not be low enough for the rain to turn into snow, the National Weather Service said.
That's welcome news to Boulware.
"We had our snow press conference today," she said. "The snow's a long way off, hopefully."