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Heavy rains make way back to Washington

A staircase near Hearst Recreational Park in Northwest Washington, D.C. looked more like a fish ladder during an April 2014 storm. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

WASHINGTON — Two weeks after a dose of record-setting rains drenched the region, another round of heavy precipitation is moving in.

This year’s April showers turned into May downpours as rain totals topped 4 inches across most of the region by the first day of the month. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport recorded 4.18 inches of rain by May 1. Washington Dulles International Airport recorded 5.54 inches of rain.

ABC7 meteorologist Steve Rudin says similar rain totals of 2 to 4 inches, with locally higher amounts, are possible by the time the current storm makes its exit Friday afternoon.

These rainfall amounts could lead to urban and stream flooding. The heaviest rain is expected during the early to mid-morning hours. Friday morning commuters should plan for delays.

The National Weather Service’s “Turn Around Don’t Drown” campaign turns 10 years old in May. The program raises awareness about the dangers of driving or walking into flooded areas.

Steve Zubrick, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., says that while driving through deep, high-standing water is dangerous, driving through a moving body of water can be deadly.

“There’s just too many people that drive around barriers that warn you the road is flooded,” Zubrick says. “Just 1 foot of flowing water is powerful enough to sweep vehicles off the road. Most [flood-related] deaths occur in automobiles as they’re swept downstream, and many of these drownings are preventable.”

James Seavey, with Montgomery County’s Special Operations River Rescue and Tactical Services, says the team responded to seven water rescues during the April 30 flooding. Dozens of water rescues were reported across the area.

Maurice Witt, battalion chief of the Special Operations Division for Montgomery County Fire, sees it happen again and again.

“‘Turn Around Don’t Drown.’ We keep saying it and keep saying it, but every time there’s a rain event, we end up having to pull people out of the water.”

Witt says the county is prepared for the latest episode of heavy rains and will deploy rescue teams to flood-prone areas such as Brighton Dam Road and Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park, when the weather worsens.

“We currently staff four swift water boats cross-staffed with fire trucks [and will] place additional swift water teams around the county to ensure that we have a quick response to our high-hazard areas,” he says.

In the previous storm, most of the flash flooding occurred during the daylight hours. The ABC7 Weather Center is forecasting a portion of heavy rain from the impending storm to fall late Thursday night and early Friday morning.

“Flooding is especially dangerous in the dark where roads aren’t lit. You think it’s blacktop when it’s actually moving water,” Witt says.

Flooding is the second leading cause of weather-related fatalities in the United States, claiming 89 lives each year.

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