Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Short Answer is Yes

With all eyes on the historic flooding in Texas, many in Washington D.C. have asked if something similar could happen in the District.

DC has a history of flooding, with notable events along the Potomac River in 1996, Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and more.

Sandra Knight with the Center for Disaster Resilience at the University of Maryland said due to the District’s geographic factors, anything is possible when it comes to flooding.

“Well certainly Houston’s flood is unprecedented,” Knight explained. “But if you think of Houston and the Galveston Bay much like D.C. and the Chesapeake Bay, we’re certainly a coastal community and so we can be influenced by hurricanes, storm surges, plus, rainfall from the Potomac River and interior flooding.”

Knight pointed to flood-prone areas such as the Georgetown Waterfront, Old Town Alexandria and areas along the Anacostia River.
DC has more relief (in the form of varied elevation) than Houston, but if a similar storm came and sat for several days as it did in Texas there would by mass scale flooding here as well. It may not be as likely, but then, Hurricane Harvey wasn't all the likely either.

Tidewater Virginia on the other hand, is pretty similar to Houston as a slow draining, low relief area:

Hurricane like Harvey would devastate Hampton Roads, so planners are taking notes
The answer is yes: It could happen here.

A storm that dumps more than 50 inches of rain over several days, like Hurricane Harvey has done along the Texas coast, is extremely unlikely in Hampton Roads.

Still, “you never say never,” said Jeff Orrock, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s Wakefield office. “The ingredients that you’d need to have an event similar to that, we do deal with those.”

It’s impossible to predict how many people would die or how many billions of dollars of property damage would occur, since there’d be many other variables, besides rainfall, that would make the impact in coastal Virginia different than on the Gulf Coast. Nonetheless, a record-breaking rainfall, like Harvey’s, would be devastating, Orrock said, leaving it “very difficult to get around, if not impossible,” for days or weeks.

All of which is why Hampton Roads might want to keep tabs on Harvey’s ravaging of the Houston area long after the storm has blown out.

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