Ellicott City flood alert sounds, Howard County works to reduce chronic devastation

June 23, 2020

WTOP/Neal Augenstein

For the first time, early warning sirens sounded in historic Ellicott City on Monday evening, triggered by a flash flood warning from the National Weather Service.

Despite almost two inches of rain in a one hour period, no serious damage was sustained in Maryland’s flood-prone tourist destination, which suffered devastating floods in 2016 and 2018.

“It was a bit alarming, only because you worry what’s going to happen to Main Street,” said a resident taking two young children and her dog for a walk early Tuesday morning. “But you feel good that at least people know to get to higher ground.”

The emergency sirens sounded for the first time since last July, when the National Weather Service and Howard County worked to designate “Historic Ellicott City,” located along the Patapsco River, separately from the remainder of Ellicott City, which measures 30 square miles.

“For the first time, we had our early alert tones go off,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. “We heard from businesses and residents in the immediate area that they heard it, and were not only alerted, but felt empowered and aware.”

Ball said the county has now purchased 10 buildings on and near Main Street. When Ball took office in 2019, the county’s plan called for removal of all 10.

Currently, the plan is to raze four of the buildings.

“We’re going to have a public meeting this fall, which will help us decide how we can preserve what we can, and take down what is unsafe,” Ball said.


Ball dubbed the flood mitigation plan “Safe and Sound.” The largest expense in the multimillion-dollar project involves building a tunnel parallel to Main Street, to divert flooding rains from the main shopping area.

“We’ve been making significant progress — not just with the culvert,” said Ball. “We’ve been stabilizing in and around old Ellicott City. After Monday night’s flash flood warning, the water dissipated relatively quickly.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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