The Washington region is preparing for the potential of torrential rain and winds strong enough to bring down trees and power lines as Hurricane Florence approaches the area.
The powerful Category 4 storm appeared set to take a swipe at the East Coast as early as Thursday night, with a potential landfall in the Carolinas, according to the most current forecasts.
Some forecasts are predicting “potentially disastrous” conditions in the Washington region, which has received above-normal rainfall this summer. The District, Maryland and Virginia have all declared states of emergency as the region braces for the storm.
Transportation officials are urging residents to be prepared, take precautions and anticipate the storm's impact on the roads and transit.
“This is a major storm system, and it will likely cause significant damage and disruption to the state highway system,” Maryland State Highway Administrator Gregory Slater said. “The ground is saturated so additional rain is likely to runoff rapidly."
Although Florence's potential impact on the region is still unclear, forecasters say it could bring three to four days of rain. Several inches of rain or more would make flooding across the region inevitable, said The Washington Post's chief meteorologist Jason Samenow. “It could become severe in a worst-case scenario,” he said.
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Transportation agencies in the District, Maryland and Virginia are deploying crews to clear drainage ditches, trim branches from uprooted trees, and prepare response equipment in anticipation of downed trees on highways and local roads, officials said. Equipment also in route to high-risk flood areas and road. Officials also are reminding residents to not stand, walk or drive in standing water.
"Just six inches of moving water can knock you down and one foot of moving water can sweep a vehicle away,” Christopher Rodriguez, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency said at a Tuesday morning news conference.
Metro said it is sending more than 1,000 sandbags to stations prone to flooding, including Cleveland Park, Federal Triangle and Shaw. Crews are checking pumps and generators in the system to ensure they are ready to respond to outages. Metro General Manage Paul J. Wiedefeld said the potential for high winds remains a concern particularly, for the risk they pose to riders in aboveground stations and at bus stops.
The rail and bus systems are set to operate normally, but officials warned that changes to schedules are possible as the storm unfolds. If winds are above 45 mph, changes to rail and bus schedules are likely, spokesman Dan Stessel said. Customers who use the MetroAccess service are advised to cancel their trips for Thursday and Friday.
“They’re some of our most vulnerable customers and we want to make sure they remain safe,” Wiedefeld said.
The District Department of Transportation said crews will be on standby to handle any tree issues that may arise and ahead of the storm are staging equipment at key roadways that have been prone to high water. Backup generators will be available to ensure there’s coverage at major intersections in the case of signal outages, DDOT director Jeff Marootian said.
Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar said flooding is expected on the lower Eastern Shore associated with the storm surge and in areas where the ground is already very saturated.
"With those high winds you are going to have soggy ground and soggy ground means you are going to have fallen tree limbs into power wires,” he said. “Make sure you plan accordingly."