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"I'm Wet--I'm Hysterical and I'm Wet!"

So we're driving back into town after a week's vacation, and it's been a harrowing eight hours on the road, all but 25 minutes of it in wild, pounding rain, a 400-mile-long stationary front of grey, wet, foggy murk, and we're within 10 minutes of home, sliding down River Road from the Beltway toward the District, when suddenly lights and sirens appear immediately behind us.

It's a boat.

I've been driving down I-81 since the upper reaches of New York state and now I'm in Montgomery County and I am being pulled over and passed by a boat on River Road.

So you'll pardon me if I check to see if that's Noah behind the wheel.

Yes, it was a police boat, and yes, it turned out that there was a police vehicle towing the boat toward some mishap closer to the Potomac (he turned west on Wilson Boulevard, down toward the river), but it did seem last night like the river, with a nice assist from the skies, had taken over nearly everything.

Of course we came home to water in the basement. Of course the power flickered. Of course we saw cars almost entirely submerged in water along the stretch where River and Westbard Avenue come toward each other.

That last sight came just minutes after we had a discussion in the car about what exactly a flash flood was and why all these dire warnings were being issued on the radio about flash flooding when Washington isn't near an ocean and we'd never seen a sudden flood in our lives. But then we saw those floating cars and thought, a-ha!, maybe there is some justification to the Bob Ryan/Doug Hill hysteria on such matters. (Ten points and a chance to go to the finals for the first person who cites the source of the quotation in today's headline--as always, Googlin' ain't sportin'.)

We know from being stymied by frozen precipitation--or the mere thought of such--in this region. But plain old rain? This morning, just about everything seems to be shut down or wobbly--Metro, the Beltway, VRE, buses. The government is telling people they can use their vacation time (gee, thanks). Shockingly, the Montgomery County schools are not closing because of the rain--oh, wait, they're closed for the summer.

Anyway, if you haven't been down to your basement, let me be the first to tell you--It's wet.

And so off to work with you. I've got a few thousand emails to comb through--I continue to refuse to do things electronic while on vacation. Call me Luddite (you know you have, you know you will) but there it is, my little stand for civilized values or some such. It's good to be back in the saddle and I appreciate Ann Gerhart's splendid posts during my absence--I do wish she'd received a bit friendlier welcome here, but let's not punish the whole class for the misdeeds of a few (I always found that to be the worst possible approach to discipline by small-minded, mean-spirited teachers.) I especially liked Ann's post about Facebook--guess what I did after my eight-hour drive back from dropping The Older Child at a camp in the wilds of New York? Yep, I read the various Facebook and xanga pages of her counselors. New ways for parents to obsess over the safety and well-being of their offspring. And I'm happy to say that the pages I checked were pretty cool and revealed no gutwrenching weirdnesses.

Let that be the motto for today: A day without gutwrenching weirdnesses is like a day without Biblical flooding. Meanwhile, I've got to go look for more towels for the basement floor.

By Marc Fisher |  June 26, 2006; 7:47 AM ET
Previous: Single-trackin' Blues on Getaway Day | Next: Pepco: Staying Connected by Dumping Customer Calls

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Now you know why it's called 'River' Road.

Posted by: Matt | June 26, 2006 8:43 AM

"I'm hysterical and I'm wet!" - Gene Wilder in The Producers.

And I'm glad you made it home in one piece Marc - one time I was travelling in bad weather from a vacation and hydroplaned off the side of the road. It's not the way you want to remember a trip, that's for sure.

Posted by: ML | June 26, 2006 9:00 AM

What I don't understand is how people built townhouses without appropriate overhangs. Everyone on our block gets hit with water in through the windows. everyone. No contractor will install an overhang for us.

Posted by: Don | June 26, 2006 9:08 AM

On the bright side, the drought is now over.

We also now have an indoor pool where our basement used to be. Anything over 5" of rain in 24 hours and our house gets this charming amenity. Towels are out of the question; it's wet/dry shop vac time and courting electrocution to use it. The high water mark is now about 4".

I'm glad you made it home safe and sound. It doesn't sound like a fun way to end a vacation, but on the other hand, you had no problem deciding what to write about for today.

Posted by: elizestrada | June 26, 2006 9:59 AM

The title was spoken by Bloom (Gene Wilder) in THE PRODUCERS, but I doubt if I'm first.

Posted by: Joe | June 26, 2006 10:05 AM

Welcome back, Marc! I agree with your civilized values. When I'm on vacation, I leave the technology behind. It's hilarious to see someone walking down the boardwalk poking away on a Blackberry.

The storm yesterday was quite something. There's a poorly designed condo area across the street from where I live. Yesterday afternoon during the heavy rain the storm drains were at capacity and the water backed up into their parking lot and several cars were partially submerged. I've never seen that parking lot flood like that. I just wish it would stop raining long enough for me to mow grass and spray the darn ants that has set up residence on my property.

Posted by: WB | June 26, 2006 10:07 AM

It's so strange, all of these bizarre weather events. Could they be linked...to global warming?

Nah, that isn't real. Besides, it'll affect people in other areas more than it would ever affect us here...oh. Well, anyway, it isn't real.

Posted by: Denial is not just a river in Egypt | June 26, 2006 10:25 AM

Marc,
How long you been in the area? Native here, over forty years old and I have seen numerous flash floods. Areas like Beach Drive are always flooding. Also under bridges. Even in the city with old drains/sewers. It all happens in a flash and it floods!!!

Posted by: Aj | June 26, 2006 11:17 AM

The one time I forget to put my car windows up is the weekend the DC area gets flash floods. Does anyone know how to handle a wet car interior other than letting it dry out? I'm concerned that water has gotten inside the air vents. The speakers seem to be okay but you never know. On the surface, everything seems fine (wet, but fine), however, I don't want to encounter any problems later on. Should I have a mechanic check it out?

Posted by: Val | June 26, 2006 11:35 AM

Of course, it's Wilder in "The Producers" , but the guy who's car interior got wet better get it dried or mold will form inside the vents and, brother, that's all she wrote! The smell will drive him nuts.

Posted by: T. Geraci | June 26, 2006 11:52 AM

Did the car get just rained on, or did the area flood and it came through the car windows? I would think if it just rained in the car, you might be okay, or at least there would be less damage. My main concern would be the wiring under the steering wheel - if it just rained, it might not get wet.

I'd have a mechanic check it out either way.

Posted by: AG | June 26, 2006 11:54 AM

DON'T even think of mopping that basement up with my clean towels! Talk about trouble in the household.

Use a mop.

Just saw the Al Gore movie this weekend. All this seems like a bad omen.

Posted by: AllWet | June 26, 2006 12:07 PM

Am I the only one remembering aftermath of Hurricane Agnes in 72? That night, I foolishly considered turning off Mass Ave onto Rock Creek Parkway at the Mosque. If I had done so, I would have found surging storm water bank to bank, the road deep under water. I am interested how your readers who lived in DC in 72 compare this storm to Agnes re severity.

Posted by: Ex DC Resident | June 26, 2006 12:22 PM

Marc-

I thought I remember you writing an account of someone trying to drive across a flooded road and, well, dying. Hmm...maybe it was Achenbach.

Anyway, someone with a desk in your building helplessly watched a person drive to his death in a flash flood, so spare me the cynicism.

Thank you.

Posted by: Bill | June 26, 2006 12:30 PM

Oh, yesterday's rain was NOTHING compared to Hurricane Agnes. I may have been very, very young but I do remember my mother and I going to the Potpmac River and seeing chairs, tables, and other furniture resting in the treetops. Yes, the water rose that high.

Posted by: WB | June 26, 2006 12:50 PM

Hurricane Agnes was pretty bad. I lived in Annandale, and Holmes Run was over the Annandale Road. The worst place I saw was where the Lake Barcroft dam failed.

Posted by: Diane | June 26, 2006 12:59 PM

Oh, Yeah, I remember Hurricane Agnes. June of 1972. It went on for weeks. I was taking a Bar Review class at Georgetown Law School several evenings a week. I live in MoCo, so I would venture down the GW Parkway from 495, and where the road approaches Key Bridge, it was a crapshoot as to whether the road would be under water or passable. on a good day the river would be almost to the pavement of the Parkway. Fletcher's Boathouse was under water most days. It was ana dventure I still talk to my kids and grandkids about. "When I was your age..."

Posted by: attorneybob | June 26, 2006 1:01 PM

the comment - by Gene Wilder from "The Producers" - the great original, that is, not the "funny, but not as good" musical which followed.

Posted by: steve | June 26, 2006 1:01 PM

Do you all think that this evenings commute will be bad like this morning?

Posted by: J | June 26, 2006 1:04 PM

Bill--Thanks for recalling that piece about the car I watched sink into water following a hurricane in the Carolinas. I did spend a good chunk of time recalling that incident along my drive yesterday, but I wouldn't call that a result of a flash flood--it took place along a stretch of Interstate that had been submerged in parts for well more than 36 hours by the time that guy tried to make it across the puddle. Anyway, here's the piece, which should still stand as a cautionary tale:

Tragedy on a Flooded Road

By Marc Fisher, TIN CITY, N.C., Sept. 18, 1999

On Thursday, a brilliant sunny day after Floyd flooded much of eastern North Carolina, I left the coast, heading up Interstate 40 toward Raleigh, which beckoned with the promise of electricity, telephones and dependable water.

In their infinite wisdom, the planners who designed Interstate 40 between Raleigh and Wilmington put the road between two creeks. Floyd flooded both waterways and the water lapped over the interstate, at several points making the road impassable.

I came upon one of the washovers near Tin City. A long convoy of power company trucks from Detroit and Connecticut pushed through the water heading east to offer help. On my western side of the road, a minivan and another car were in front of me, deciding whether to risk the puddle, which appeared to be about eight inches deep. Trucks seemed to have no problem, but most cars were either making U-turns or pulling onto the shoulder, waiting for who knows what.

The red minivan ahead of me decided to go for it and drove very slowly into the water. About 20 yards into the 60-yard-long puddle, the front wheels slid to the right. The van moved almost sideways toward the sloping grass that led to the creek. There are no guardrails along this interstate.

The van appeared to stall right at the edge of the pavement. It stood there for about 30 seconds. No one else ventured into the puddle. No one bailed out of the van. Then, the current caught the vehicle, and it slid down the embankment--so slowly that it seemed to defy gravity. I called 911. So did others. Some folks jumped out of their cars and waded into the water. Within four minutes, a police helicopter arrived. Troopers drove a truck up to the water's edge. Half a dozen men dove into the water.

But the van slowly disappeared into the creek, leaving only its roof visible. The rescue effort continued for more than half an hour. The only successful rescue was of the first volunteer who had gone in after the minivan.

There would be no other rescue. The driver drowned.

In silence, the line of cars waiting before the puddle turned around and went off in search of dry passage.

End of text

A postscript: I later heard from the family of the man who died. They were enormously grateful to have a firsthand account of what had happened and they said the medical authorities concluded that the man had had a heart attack and died before anyone could get to him.

Posted by: Fisher | June 26, 2006 1:25 PM

How do you look someone up on facebook/myspace/etc.? (This is a serious question)I've tried and there's no real names, etc. I need to be in the loop!

Posted by: c | June 26, 2006 1:30 PM

Wouldn't east on Wilson from River be in the general direction of the Rock Creek, not the Potomac?

Posted by: Anonymous | June 26, 2006 1:58 PM

Look at the lay of the land, from Lake Ontario to Ocean City and south. All the water (rivers, streams, and runs) "falls" to the ocean. If we get a lot of rain, anything next to the Potomac or any water could be overrun. That's why you never build a house below the water, unless it's on a bluff overlooking the heights like Robert E. Lee's Mansion. So yeah, idiots who live in Alexandria, the potential for a flash flood is real.

Posted by: Homer Simpson | June 26, 2006 2:27 PM

Marc, about nine years ago I wrote you about DC snow hysteria -- I had just moved to Washington from Indiana (where they know from weather) and was temping at the World Bank. One afternoon I looked up from my typewriter (yes, you read that right) and everyone in the office had disappeared. I went to my boss, a hardy old man from Kansas, and he took me over to the the window. We looked down on the sidewak and people were streaming home in droves from every building downtown -- and the snow hadn't started yet!. Both sturdy Midwesterners, he and I agreed that they were overreacting a bit. But he told me it was the norm here. Now I go winter-storm-warning food shopping just for the sport of it.

This rain is no different -- it's not just the ground that is parched, your soul becomes parched as well when there is no rain. I walked in it today, happily got drenched and now feel rejuvenated.

oh yeah, gotta go check the basement . . .

Posted by: indy weathergirl | June 26, 2006 3:13 PM

Ah . . . those hearty midwesterners. They can handle anything nature throws at them! (Except, of course, tornados and possibly men loving each other.) If only the rest of the country was just like 'em!

Posted by: OD | June 26, 2006 3:31 PM

OD, don't try to introduce tofu to them either. They're meat and taters folks!

Posted by: Weee-Haaaa! | June 26, 2006 3:56 PM

I'll be able to compare this rain to Hurricane Agnes when I get home and look at the basement. In 1972, there was 6 inches of water down there, despite being located on high ground. A couple of downspouts clogged and the overflowing gutters drained right into the basement.

I checked the gutters a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I'll be lucky.

Posted by: WMA | June 26, 2006 3:58 PM

Read the scifi novel Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson. It's the 1st book in a trilogy about global warming. Much of the book is set in the DC area. The climatic catastrophe begins w/ a major rain event & flood crippling DC. Uh-oh!

Posted by: John | June 26, 2006 5:53 PM

Does anyone from the Hurricane Agnes era know if the hurricane/flooding went as far as Baltimore in 72? I have my reasons for wondering.... thanks!

Posted by: not so old, not so young | June 26, 2006 7:09 PM

rDon, make sure the inside of your windows doesn't need to be recaulked. I had rain come in through a bathroom window and when I checked the window, I found that some of the caulk aound the top of the window needed to be replaced. I touched it up and I didn't have an inside waterfall anymore.

Posted by: just fyi | June 26, 2006 7:27 PM

OD, this hardy Hoosier girl has weathered many a tornado, including one where I couldn't get to a shelter and had to crouch on a sidewalk as it passed over my head, pelting me with hail and rain. You ever do anything remotely close to that? (And please check your dictionary re: hardy vs. hearty.)

Your other comment is simply ignorant and offensive -- and totally off topic.

Posted by: indy weathergirl | June 26, 2006 7:41 PM

Had to sit in my car while a tornado passed by. Was July of 1996 in Westminister, MD. Now, I reckon it wasn't as primitive as your senario (that means situation), but, yep, been there - done that. What else you got cowpoke?

BTW, I'm not OD.

Posted by: Weee-Haaa! | June 26, 2006 8:28 PM

Yo, Weee-Haaa! No cowpokes in Indiana -- we just got corn and tomato. Some soybeans too.

I will assume you are being nice, and that you want to talk weather. You ask, what else I got? I got tornados, more notches in my belt than I can count from growing up there, until I left for DC after college. And I feel as if I'm in a weather-free zone here -- they get it in the mountains and they get it at the Chesapeake, but here in the middle we just get lazy hazy days -- no rain, no snow. These thunderstorms we've had have been wonderful.

I understand the difficulty that folks around here have with flooding and commuting, and I'm sympathetic (commuting down Constitution Ave.? Done it for years. It's not easy on a good day). But I know storms and I have the only sump pump on my street -- so tonight I'm also the only dry basement on my street.

What more I got? My family was in Florida in August of last year -- my kids and I stood on Deerfield Beach when Katrina made landfall as a Cat one hurricane. We had sand in our teeth and hair for days. Of course, we didn't know then what she was going to do -- we thought she would peter out as she passed through the state. So the picture I have of us smiling with our hair whipping about is bittersweet. That moment was such fun -- what came afterward was not.

But weather makes me feel alive -- other people rely on different things, but give me a good walk in the rain any day and I'll be happy.

Posted by: indy weathergirl | June 26, 2006 9:20 PM

Oh, btw Mr. Weee-Haaa: We do indeed have cows in Indiana. We just don't have to poke them -- they're happy cows.

Posted by: indy weathergirl | June 26, 2006 9:34 PM

Now, kids, settle down! Don't make me separate you! In fact, go to your rooms right now! You can come down when you can play nice.

Posted by: Dad | June 27, 2006 9:39 AM

As a native Syracusan (upstate New York is for all intents and purposes midwestern, except we still say "soda" instead of "pop"), I too have long been bemused by how people react here to predicted snowfalls.

However, I must concede there is one crucial difference: in places like Syracuse or Iowa, when it gets below freezing in winter, it largely stays there. In the D.C. region, it fluctuates, leading to ice on the roads -- something far more hazardous than snow.

In the mid-eighties, I was attending grad school at Iowa State and drove home to see my family on the holiday break. It was dreadfully cold in the midwest, but the interstates were clear. Driving was a breeze until I got off I-270 at Montgomery Village Avenue, where traffic was immobilized due to ice. It took me two hours to drive the final three miles.

Posted by: Vincent | June 27, 2006 10:44 AM

For everyone who has a story about how much better their home state deals with extreme weather, perhaps you should ask your kindly congressmen and senators from your lovely midwestern states to stop screwing with the DC budget. If every other state's representative didn't treat DC as their personal policy play-thing, then maybe the city would be better able to handle all of the storms, parades, terrorist attacks, etc it is prone to.

Thank you.

Posted by: Jimmy from DC | June 27, 2006 11:08 AM

During Agnes we were living in a third floor apartment in PG county. I watched the water from the "drainage ditch" slowly rise, getting closer to our building and was thankful that I was on the third floor and had nothing in my storage area in the basement. The basement got about six inches of water from that ditch. The rest of the building and the parking lot in front of the building was fine but we couldn't get out of the lot until the next day. The thing about watching the water rise was that it had already stopped raining!

I don't know if Baltimore was affected.

Posted by: Historian | June 27, 2006 11:20 AM

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