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With sustained strong winds and flooding likely as Hurricane Sandy moves across the region, state and local authorities are urging extreme caution on roadways. We get an update on emerging weather patterns and conditions on Maryland, Virginia and D.C. roads.
- Vincent Gray Mayor, District of Columbia (D)
- Charlie Gischlar spokesman, Maryland State Highway Administration
- Chuck Bell Meteorologist, NBC4
- Lauren Hansen Public Affairs Manager, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the American History guys on how we went from half the country being prohibited from voting to almost half simply not showing up at the polls. But first, Hurricane Sandy continues to make her way into the region. We're already feeling the effects and the forecast calls for heavier rain and stronger winds, soon.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd with pretty much every mode of public transportation shut down, President Obama just said in a press conference that the most important message is this, please listen to what your state and local officials are saying, going on to warn that if people do not comply with state and local directions, we could have fatalities that might have been avoided. And so we have got updates on road conditions throughout the region from state and local officials. But first, the weather. Here with the latest is Chuck Bell, an NBC4 Meteorologist. Chuck Bell, thank you for joining us.
MR. CHUCK BELLThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIChuck joins us by phone. Chuck with all the hype about the frankenstorm ahead of the weekend, some wondered if it would be as bad as predicted. As Sandy now continues approach, it seems we're in for a near worst case scenario. What is so unique? What is so unusual about this storm?
BELLWell, most of the time, as most people know around here, when you talk about hurricanes, most of the time when it's raining and a hurricane is making landfall, it's 70 or 75 degrees outside and it feels like the tropics. If you've been outside today, you know, it does not feel tropical in nature at all.
BELLSo, right off the bat, you know that this is a different kind of an animal. It is still a tropical system out over the open waters and it's running now, the eye of Sandy, about 180 miles off of the coast of Atlantic City, N.J. The storm has made that long and anticipated turn back to the coastline now and as it stands now, the outer reaches of the eye wall of Sandy could be reaching Southern coast of New Jersey between 5:00 and 8:00 o'clock this evening as the storm is accelerating westward.
BELLThe reason it feels and is such a different animal, is on the backside, on the west-side, we have a very strong polar jet stream that's diving into the west and southwest sides of the storm and that's energizing the storm as it makes the transition from a tropical storm over the open water to what will become more of a classic winter-time storm scenario once it gets on shore. The only thing that makes a hurricane work, is it has to be over warm ocean waters. Once they leave that characteristic, they become what we call a cold core system. In other words, they're being energized by cold air in the atmosphere instead of warm energy and warm air coming off of the ocean.
NNAMDIThis morning, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley told Matt McCleskey, our Matt McCleskey, that this storm is unusual because instead of weakening as it makes landfall, it's getting stronger.
BELLSome hurricanes actually do that. Andrew, back in 1992 was a rapidly intensifying storm when it land -- made landfall in South Florida. This one is also rapidly intensifying. Typically at these latitudes, if you've ever been swimming off the coast of New Jersey, you know the water temperature rarely gets over 70 degrees at the coastline.
NNAMDIThis is true.
BELLBut even, here we are late October, the ocean water temperature 200 miles offshore, right over the Gulf Stream, it's almost 80 degrees in Atlantic ocean, 200 miles off the coast of New Jersey. And that is what is causing this storm to strengthen, that combined with this upper level cold air energy shot coming in from the continental U.S. into the west and southwest corner of it. Those two factors are allowing this storm to maintain and actually gain strength as it makes a run for the coastline.
NNAMDIChuck, we're already seeing heavy rain and some steady winds. What can we expect in around -- in and around D.C. as the afternoon goes on and the evening approaches?
BELLYeah, the winds have been gusting into the 30 to 40 mph range for most of the late morning here, into the afternoon. And that wind gusting will continue to increase. I do suspect that we'll have sustained winds out of the north and northwest, 35 to 45 mph, sustained. But again, the winds could gust 65 mph or higher and the problem is going to be that it's going to go on for a relatively long period of time. We could have the opportunity to see winds gusting 65 mph or higher from about sundown tonight to about sunrise tomorrow morning. So that's an extended period of high sustained and very strong wind gusts.
NNAMDIWhat are our biggest concerns or what should be out biggest concerns here? One word, flooding?
BELLYes. Yeah, water, you know, since we're not on the coastline, if you were on the coastline, the storm surge is always the most dangerous thing at the coast because basically it's like having the whole Atlantic Ocean thrown at you. We don't have to worry about that here because we're not on the water. If you lived in Annapolis, a little bit of a high tide and a little bit of a storm surge there, you know, they could see two to three or four foot water rises along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. But since Washington itself isn't really directly attached to the ocean, we don't need to worry about storm surge.
BELLBut flooding, we've already had more than an inch and a half of rain at National Airport and all indications are, we could get another two to two and a half inches rain by 8:00 o'clock tonight, another two to two and a half inches of rain from 8:00 o'clock tonight till 8:00 o'clock tomorrow morning. That would be five inches more rainfall. And of course, the rain is also going westward into the mountains with the system as the system goes on shore. And so, obviously, we're going to get the heavy rain here first but then the heavy rains move up the hill. And of course, when it rains uphill, that of course, then has to drain right down through the big river basin.
BELLSo the Potomac River, the Monocacy, all those creeks and streams which will have a quick rise as the rainfall comes into them today, will have a sustained rise as the heavy rains move further and further uphill and inland. Because that water, eventually, has to drain back down. So flash flooding, river flooding, creeks and streams, that is going to be a very dangerous situation for us. We all know -- you know, we use that phrase, turn around, don't drown, so often that I don't think people take it seriously.
BELLWe lose hundreds of people every year in this country who make the mistake of thinking, oh that water is only two inches deep and I'm driving an SUV, I'm going to fine. Not the case. These kinds of things, that water which might normally only be two or three inches deep, this time might be 10 or 12 or 15 inches deep and that's enough to float your car off the road with you in it. So best thing anybody can do, and this is the one thing that so many people just ignore, stay safe, stay put, stay inside.
NNAMDINBC4 Meteorologist Chuck Bell, Chuck thank you so much for joining us.
BELLThanks for having us.
NNAMDIYou can join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. And if you're saying, what conversation with whom? We're getting ready to talk with Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, 800-433-8850. If you have comments or questions for Mayor Gray, you can also send email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. Mayor Vincent Gray, thank you very much for joining us.
MR. VINCENT GRAYThank you Kojo, I'm delighted to be here. Thank you for having us on.
NNAMDIYou're welcome. Mayor Gray, how ready is the district for this storm as it starts to show its full force?
GRAYI think we are about as ready as we possibly can be. You know, we are trying to get everybody to understand the seriousness of this. I'm not sure we've had a storm quite like this one before. The meteorologists have forewarned us about the extraordinary conditions that we have here. And we're just trying to get, one, people to stay off the streets and to recognize what you just heard from the meteorologist, that the winds will be gusting at very high levels. We'll have very substantial amounts of rain in a short period of time. That the grounds will be soaked and we could have some flooding in certain areas of the city. Although it won't be nearly as difficult as the coastal areas.
NNAMDIWhat are the main resources, residents, should turn to if they need help?
GRAYWell, first of all, if they need something, they should call 3-1-1 if they don't know. We're going to have, for example, shelters that are open already across the city. We have five that already have been identified and are open. And we have a capacity to add up to 16 shelters, that would be two per ward if we need them. So there will be those resources that will be conveniently available to people. Most of them will be in either schools or recreation centers. But any other, you know, to make it easier, Kojo, I think any other problems that arise, people should just pick up the phone and call 3-1-1. And we'll try to be as responsive as we can.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Mayor Vincent Gray of the District of Columbia. You requested that President Obama declare a federal emergency declaration here. He has so done. What benefit does the district get from the declaration of a state of emergency that's in effect?
GRAYWell, first of all, it gives us the opportunity to be able to be, you know, to get additional assistance. We have the -- you know, we have FEMA here working with us. We have worked with them, for example, Kojo, to get people to be able to be deployed into the Bloomingdale and LeDroit areas to assist the residents and assist the efforts that we're already making there. And we can get reimbursed for the damage, you know, repair that has to be done, that will have to be done in the aftermath of this. And the additional declaration allowed us even to get assistance before the storm has landed, you know, in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIParking enforcement is suspended in the city but are there restrictions on where people can park?
GRAYNo. We don’t have any -- the, you know, of course, where areas -- where they normally would be prohibited, people are not -- we have suspended all the, you know, requirements that would be associated with. For example, not parking in an area where a street would be cleaned on a particular day. All of that's been suspended at this stage. The most important thing is, we don't want people in automobiles, we want them inside, safe as they possibly can be.
GRAYOne other point I'd like to make too, Kojo, is that those people who have options not to be on the top floor of where they live, it's a wise idea not to do that. We don't know what's going to happen with trees and limbs. You know when the winds are gusting at their highest levels and some of those could come down on the roof and we certainly don't want people on the top floor of where they live, where they reside and potentially injured by that incident.
NNAMDIMike DeBonis of the Washington Post is reporting that the D.C. Taxi Commission has institute a $15 per ride emergency fee in effect until noon Tuesday. Can you verify that, Mr. Mayor?
GRAYYeah, that's correct. That's in the regulations already. And the idea, Kojo, is for those people who may not have any other transportation options, it's -- provides an incentive to keep taxies on the streets so people can get around where they need to get around. And, of course, being the nation's capital, we are clearly a huge tourist attraction and undoubtedly we have tourists who are in the city and we want to make sure that they have transportation options available to them, especially since the Metro is not running.
NNAMDID.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, thank you so much for joining us.
GRAYThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850, if you have questions or comments or specific information about the area in which you happen to be living. Joining us now, by phone, is Charlie Gischlar, the spokesperson for the Maryland State Highway Administration. Charlie Gischlar, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. CHARLIE GISCHLAROh, thank you, Kojo, thanks, it's my pleasure.
NNAMDISome major roads in Maryland have been closed, especially along and leading to the coast. Which routes are you keeping people off of right now?
GISCHLARRight now, we do have a weather related closure due to high water in one of the usual areas that we see and that's going to be along Maryland 450, Annapolis Road, near the Parole area in Anne Arundel County. So not that far away, really. And it's starting to come, you know, in droves at this time. But obviously, as you mentioned on the coastline, we're dealing with a closure along coastal highway, which is Maryland 528 between the Route 90 bridge and their US 50 bridge.
GISCHLARThere's a lot of standing water on the roadways, it's dangerous, so we close the roadway and we do expect there's going to be more as the tides start to come in, the surge comes in and then the bulk of the hurricane comes in. So the best bet, Kojo, all your listeners, stay in the comfort of your own home today, do not go out on the roadways, it's going to be treacherous and dangerous.
NNAMDIOdds are good that power will go out at some point and that means stop lights will probably go dark. Could you remind those who have to take the roads, how they should proceed through those intersections?
GISCHLARThat is an excellent question. I'm so glad you brought that up. On October the 1st, the state legislature, they enacted a law that all intersections that are without operating traffic signals, meaning if they're out, you have to stop at all legs of the intersection. You can proceed, you know, just blowing through. You have to stop whether you're on the main side of the road or on the side street.
NNAMDITreat it as a four-way stop sign. In addition to the hurricane conditions we're experiencing in the D.C. metro region, Maryland officials are also reacting to a blizzard warning in the far west of the state. Do you have enough manpower to go around?
GISCHLARWe do. In fact, we're not that far out for western Maryland to actually start getting snow on a basic year. However, and I can confirm that we did get some snowflakes and it's starting to snow in the southeastern part of Garret County, which is in far western Maryland. So they are expecting upwards to 2' of snow up that way. And we do have crews that have been loaded with salt and we're ready to go as soon as the flakes start to fall. And then it's funny, then you go down to Piedmont and then out to the shore area our same salt trucks are loaded up with chainsaws, chippers and high water signs. So it's a very surreal scene in Maryland right now.
NNAMDICharlie Gischlar is Maryland's spokesperson for the Maryland State Highway Administration. Charlie Gischlar, thank you so much for joining us.
GISCHLARThank you, Kojo. Be safe out there.
NNAMDIWe'll try. And joining us by phone from Virginia now is Lauren Hansen who is a public affairs manager for the Department -- the Virginia Department of Transportation. Lauren Hansen, thank you for joining us.
MS. LAUREN HANSENThank you for having us. Thanks for getting the word out.
NNAMDILauren, metro bus and rail service is suspended. MARG ,V RE and Amtrak trains are all at a standstill and most computer bus routes are shut down as well which means that if you have to get somewhere in the D.C. region today and you have a car, you're driving. What are the current conditions on the roads and what do you want drivers who may be heading out to know?
HANSENWell, we're actually advocating motorists avoid travel if at all possible, to go to our website 511virginia.org to check conditions before they leave their house and to drive safely. There are a lot of very hazardous conditions on the road right now and motorists need to be prepared for that before they leave their house.
NNAMDIIt's also been said that people should drive slowly. I've been seeing reports of people driving either at high speed or what they would consider normal speed. Driving slowly, I guess, is a good idea at this point, right?
HANSENAbsolutely. We have severe weather conditions with tropical storm -- or hurricane Sandy. So there are some wind issues as well as some heavy downpours without any warnings. So people really need to take it slow out there. Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you. And really, if you can avoid travel, do.
NNAMDIOur main focus of course is northern Virginia but we know the coast is taking the brunt of the storm. How are things looking along the eastern shore and then Hampden roads?
HANSENWell on Hampden roads there is a lot of flooding concerns that are going on right now. We have one large tunnel in the Norfolk region, the Midtown Tunnel which is closed because of tidal flooding. We also have the Jamestown Scotland Ferry closed because of high tides at this point. We're monitoring the situation at the other tunnels and we'll hopefully be able to open up the facilities once the tides subside. But again, we are monitoring the tides for the next tidal season coming up later this afternoon.
NNAMDILauren Hansen, thank you for joining us.
HANSENThank you so much.
NNAMDILauren Hansen's a public affairs manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation. We're going to take a short break and when we come back, the American History Guys, the history of elections. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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