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October 4, 2010

Last week's storm, seen from St. Leonard's Creek

Rainfall map 

The Baltimore Sun's environmental writer, Tim Wheeler, has passed along this delightful essay, written late last week by Kent Mountford, former senior senior scientist with the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program office, and still an environmental historian and estuarine ecologist.

He's semi-retired, writing for the Bay Journal. He lives on St. Leonard's Creek, in Calvert County, where he measured Kent Mountford photomore than 14 inches of rain in last week's rainstorm. That's his yard in the photo, taken during the storm. The rainfall map shows the storm totals in one-inch increments, from 3 or less (darkest blue), upward to 13 or more (red). Enjoy.

"I don’t get fresh brewed coffee very often, and never at home, but this morning, I made a pot to get myself going.

"This storm was an amazing experience. I’ve kept rainfall records at Osborn Cove since 1974 and this storm exceeds anything encountered in that three-and-a-half decade period. I can say with confidence that this rainfall, at our location in Maryland, vastly exceeded disastrous Tropical Storm “Agnes” in 1972 (which was about 150 mm or 6 inches). 

"It has, at the very least been a four decade event.  Since “Agnes” was called a Millennium Storm, the return interval for what we experienced is much longer than 4 decades. I hope my science colleagues mark this and monitor the Chesapeake appropriately:  “Agnes” after all shook this ecosystem to its foundations, and the Bay, if anything is in a more delicate state than in 1972."

(PHOTO by Kent Mountford. Used with permission.)

"NOAA Weather Radio was going off every hour (through the night as well!) warning of pending tornados, a waterspout crossing the Patuxent and flash floods all over damnation. Mill Bridge Road was flooded impassable all yesterday. Still roaring thru the culverts, it had fallen 3-4 feet by this morning. 

"I was afraid to turn the annoying radio off for fear of a real tornado approach, and twice had the cats barricaded in the plant room ready to dive into the masonry cellar should “Catchall” lift off her 105 year old foundations. Two friends were good enough to call and warn when St Leonard Creek was in the sights of one or another prospective event.

"If we include the “arm” of this storm which came through September  28 (34.1mm) with a few hours sun and sailing wind in between –George Tornell and I took “Catalan II” out on a glorious Bay and played tag with the 150 foot, 400 ton Barquentine “Peacemaker” under sail off James Island--,  Add this with the larger rain mass 29 Sept. (195.6 mm), 30 Sept. (140.4mm)  , total precipitation was 371.6 mm or 14.55 inches in 72 hours.

"This storm quickly turned the Cove to mocha coffee and Secchi disk visibility fell from 1.0 meters during the height of the storm to 0.23 meters this morning, a 76% decline. The tide rose both from onshore winds and the incredible rain influx to a height of 16.7 on my tide staff (about 3.2 feet above normal. Waves just lapped the bottom of the dock planks.  Salinity, which in the drought, had risen to 15.5 o/oo –about half ocean saltiness—had this morning plummeted to 1.3 o/oo, drinkably fresh if you could handle the mud in it!

"Rain literally filled my skiff “Telson” twice, almost sinking her (but for bailing during the height of Wednesday’s rain), which I figure represented 250 gallons of rain (and about 100 pails of water taken out). “Nimble” was dry inside but about 2.5 gallons of water seeped into the bilge through the engine hatch, which I pumped out. Her decks, from millions of pounding raindrops, were as clean as we’ve ever scoured them by hand!

"Four large soil slumps came down the cliff, taking with them many tons of saturated soil, but on my land  the work  caretaker Charles Weems and I have done over the years paid off. All the grass waterways were intact, the Dutch Drains were clear of sediment and into Middle Valley Pond, while years of plant growth were swept down by the current to bare rock riprap, water in the detention basin was clear of sediment. A Very good feeling.

"There were some limbs down, apparently from sheer weight of water since there was relatively little wind here on the creek, but they are already cut up and will warm “Catchall” a couple days in this winter’s woodstove work. 

"Then came the wind, however, gusting 32 knots ( almost 37 MPH) with saturated ground, and the huge leverage of still full-foliage, applying torque to loosened root-balls. What more might we lose?  Not much it developed, but the storm surge is driven out the Patuxent and down Bay by these forces and since last night the tide has fallen back a yard.

"First sun breaks through the overcast at 1135 Friday morning 1 October, and with the boats bailed, cats asleep, and my caffeine high still going, I brew up a big double batch of split pea soup (managing to nip off the tip of a finger chopping onions). Now, is that my finger in there or a piece of the ham?… A little more salt and you’ll never know the difference.

"My Cove data taken as routine monitoring 2 October found that, already salinity has rebounded to 12.1 o/oo , with that thin, rain layer being mixed in and driven out by the wind. Bottom salinity, still reflecting the ended drought is 15.6 o/oo and oxygen at 2.5 meters depth is still lower at 5.8 ppm, compared to the surface which was 6.6 to 7.0 ppm. 
"Another coastal storm 3-4 October brings still more bands of rain, 1.57 inches ( 40.0 mm) by noon today, bringing the unprecedented  total precipitation in just  5 days to  16.14 inches. It is cooler too, and at 51 F., the first woodstove fires of the season are lit and the cats welcome the warmth."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:41 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Events


Ah, the gift of prose. Enjoyed it!

Thanks for giving Kent Mountford's lyrical writing a wider audience. Be careful with those knives, Kent!

What a thoroughly enjoyable piece of writing. He manages to mix scientific detail with personal observation. Thanks for sharing this, will there be more?

FR: That's entirely up to Dr. Mountford.

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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