Once-in-a-Millenium Rainfall Descends on Maryland, Killing 2
'It looks like a war zone'
An entire month's worth of rain fell on Ellicott City, in Howard County, Maryland, within two hours late Saturday evening, causing catastrophic flash floods that killed two people and forced over 100 others to be rescued.
The local Patapsco River rose more than 13 feet, according to The Weather Channel. A state of emergency was declared Sunday in Howard County, where the community of 65,000 is located.
Local resident Joyce Healy told NBC that she was driving on Ellicott City's Main Street when she saw a Mercedes-Benz "floating back down the road."
"I've never seen anything like this, ever—the devastation down here," Healy said.
Howard County executive Allan Kittleman characterized the flooding as "a terrible, terrible, horrific incident" in comments made to NBC on Sunday afternoon, adding that "it looks like a war zone."
Indeed, as Slate meteorologist Eric Holthaus wrote in his email newsletter Monday:
If you think you've heard something like this before, you're probably right. In fact, 1,000-year rainfall events are occurring frequently enough now that we can start to categorize them. There's the "rapid onset" 1,000-year events, like what happened this weekend in Maryland and last month's extreme rainfall in West Virginia, where river valleys are utterly transformed in just a few hours. There's the "weekend deluge" 1,000-year events, like last October's catastrophic rainstorm in South Carolina, in which an entire hurricane's worth of rain was shunted toward the coast by a unique atmospheric pattern over a period of a few days. And there's the "will it ever stop raining?" 1,000-year events, like last May in Oklahoma, where a good chunk of an entire year's worth of rainfall fell.
"What's happening here is honestly very simple," Holthaus wrote. "Our atmosphere is changing. We literally do not have the same sort of atmosphere as we did 20 or 100 years ago. A warmer atmosphere is able to hold more water vapor, and that means the heaviest rainstorms are getting more intense."
With extreme weather events occurring with growing frequency around the world, Holthaus added: "It's not just in your head. Things really are getting weirder."
Video footage and photographs taken on Saturday evening showed dramatic scenes: One local, for example, filmed a group forming a human chain to rescue a woman from her stranded car as floodwaters raged around them:
— ABC News (@ABC) July 31, 2016
Photographs also emerged of cars floating down streets:
— NortheastWeatherWx (@NEWeatherWx) July 31, 2016
And footage taken in the days following the flood showed stretches of Main Street had completely caved in as a result of the deluge:
— Nikki Burdine (@NikkiBurdine) July 31, 2016
"It looks like the set of a disaster movie," Kittleman told AP. "Cars everywhere, cars on top of cars, parts of the road are gone, many parts of the sidewalk are gone, storefronts are completely gone."
"No one has ever seen devastation like this in Ellicott City or anywhere in Howard County," Kittleman said. "There are a lot of businesses that are going to be hurting for a long time. There are a lot of people that lost their apartments and their homes."
NBC reports that according to the county, at least "four homes were destroyed, and 20 to 30 others sustained substantial damage."