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Record-Setting Storm Wallops East Coast With Flooding, High Winds

A historically intense December coastal storm blasted the Northeast on Monday after unleashing heavy rainfall, coastal flooding and high winds from Florida to the Mid-Atlantic. More than 800,000 customers had no power Monday afternoon as many locations in eastern New England saw wind gusts between 60 and 70 mph — more resembling an early fall tropical storm than a December tempest.

Massachusetts and Maine were the two hardest hit states with a combined 640,000 customers in the dark. Boston’s Logan International Airport — where inbound fights were held for several hours because of high winds — clocked a gust at 68 mph; meanwhile gusts in Portland, Maine, hit 60 mph.

The National Weather Service logged hundreds of reports of flooding and high winds from northern Virginia to northern Maine on Monday. The flooding closed scores of roads while the winds toppled trees and wires. The storm’s fierce winds and enormous waves also pushed ashore an ocean surge comparable to tropical storms and hurricanes from Florida’s west coast to southern New England. In many locations, the water level rose at least 2 to 4 feet above normal, inundating low-lying roadways.

Charleston, S.C., saw its fourth-highest storm surge on record Sunday, as did Tampa, with water levels running four feet above normal.

Dale Morris, Charleston’s chief resilience officer, said in an interview on Monday that Sunday’s surge ranked only behind Hurricane Irma in 2017, an unnamed 1940 storm and Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

“We were a bit surprised,” said Morris, who noted that the massive surge exceeded the initial projections by the Weather Service.

Even so, he said, there wasn’t much more the city could have done to prevent the flooding that unfolded, which caused roughly 40 road closures and widespread damage that was still being tallied Monday afternoon. The city, he said, had employed mobile pumps beginning on Friday to try to ease flooding and had erected police barricades in some of the most affected spots.

Despite the fact that about 4 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours, Morris insisted that deluge was not responsible for the bulk of the disaster. On Charleston’s low-lying peninsula, there is virtually no defense now for tides above a certain threshold — a problem that is expected to grow only worse as seas continue to rise, absent serious adaptation measures such as a proposed sea wall.

“It wasn’t the rain that caused most of the problem, it was the surge,” Morris said of the main cause of the weekend’s flooding. “The Atlantic Ocean is in the city.”

Water levels also surged to about 4 feet above normal in Sandy Hook, N.J., and in the Battery in New York City on Monday morning. Providence, R.I., also recorded a surge of 4.5 feet at midday’s high tide.

The storm was also a prolific rain producer, dumping widespread totals of 2 to 4 inches from Florida to Maine. Rain accumulations reached the double digits between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Sunday, prompting a dire flash flood emergency issued for areas around Georgetown, S.C. Doppler radar estimated that between 12 and 16 inches fell, the majority within a six-hour window. Water rescues were ongoing as residents scrambled to higher ground.

Some of the thunderstorms that deluged the eastern Carolinas on Sunday were severe; one spawned a damaging tornado near Myrtle Beach. The twister touched down in Horry County, S.C., in the Socastee and Forestbrook areas. Eight power poles were snapped near Highway 707 in Socastee, and a shopping center was damaged. The National Weather Service office in Wilmington, N.C., rated it an EF-1 on the Fujita scale with 90-mph winds.

Rain ended in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic by Monday morning, but downpours spread across the Northeast. Flash flood warnings were issued around New York City and stretched from around Scranton, Pa., to near Syracuse, N.Y. Another zone of significant flooding spanned from central New Hampshire into southern Maine.

Numerous rivers in the Northeast rose steeply, reaching moderate or even major flood stages.

The storm proved unusually intense for the time of year, setting records for low air pressures for December in numerous locations in the Southeast. (Generally, the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm.)

Source: The Washington Post