These Natural Disasters Can Occur in Maryland! Are You Prepared?

natural disasters in maryland

Maryland was the 7th state to join the union and is currently the 19th most populous in the US. It’s nicknamed the Old Line State and America in Miniature.

Many historical events happened there that have shaped the world we live in today.

Maryland is home to:

  • The first school in the United States. It opened in 1696.
  • The oldest continuously published newspaper, the Maryland Gazette. It was founded in 1727.
  • The first post office system. It was established in 1774.
  • The first water company. It was chartered in 1792.
  • The Star-Spangled Banner, which was written by Maryland lawyer Francis Scott Key. It became the national anthem in 1931.
  • The first dental school. It was established in 1828.
  • The first railroad system. It connected Baltimore and Ohio and was built in 1830.
  • The first telegraph in the world. The first telegram was sent between Baltimore and Washington, DC in 1844.
  • The first agricultural research college in the United States. It was created in 1856.

Maryland has a grand variety of topographical features, including lakes and rivers, mountains with pine groves, hills with oak forests, sandy dunes with seagrass, marshlands with roaming wildlife.

In terms of historical features and beautiful landscapes, Maryland has it all! Unfortunately, natural disasters also occur in the Old Line State, but it’s the people’s resilience that gets them through.

What natural disasters does Maryland have?

Maryland’s most common natural disasters include floods, hurricanes, severe storms, winter storms, tornadoes, wildfires, landslides, power outages, and extreme heat.

Between 1953 and 2019, Maryland declared 34 major disasters, of which floods and hurricanes happened the most according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

1. Floods

General flooding and flash floods are primarily a result of severe weather such as consistent and prolonged rainfall as well as short periods of intense rainfall. It can also be caused by levee or dam failure. 

The excess water causes rivers, creeks, and streams like the Susquehanna and Potomac to overflow.

During tropical storms and hurricanes, tidal flooding occurs along the tributaries and bays due to storm surges. At present, more than 16,000 homes in coastal areas are at risk flooding in the event of a category 1 hurricane. This number increases to 126,000 homes if the hurricane is a category 4.

Maryland has been impacted by several significant floods. Ellicott City experienced two deadly ones almost back to back. The first occurred in 2016 when torrential rain brought in 8 inches of rain within 4 short hours.

Main Street in the Old City turned into a raging river with high water that swept everything in its path including cars, debris, and people. This flash flood caused significant damage, including 5 buildings destroyed, 30 others severely damaged, 170 cars washed away, and 2 fatalities.

In 2018, another flash flood occurred in the same location. This time, however, 8 inches fell within just 2 hours. The results were similar to the 2016 flood. Cars were swept away, historic buildings were damaged or destroyed, and one person was killed.

Based on scientific estimates, the risk of inland and coastal flooding due to storm surge appears to be increasing.

It’s important to know your current flood risk and learn the proper precautions when the threat is present. For one, never attempt to cross flood waters.

Homeowners should be aware that flood damage isn’t covered under regular home insurance, therefore it’s something to look into prior to a storm. Check out the National Flood Insurance Program to see what your options are. 

To learn about mitigation strategies and safety tips, check out our complete flood preparedness guide here.

2. Hurricanes

Hurricanes rarely make landfall in Maryland however the effects of tropical storms are felt each year, specifically between August and September. Hurricane season begins one June 1st and ends on November 30th. 

Since storm data stated being recorded, only two minor hurricanes have directly impacted the state. These occurred in 1878 and 1933 but neither of them was greater than a category 3.

Since 1950, there have been approximately 136 tropical storms, depressions, and hurricanes that have affected the state indirectly.

Most storms are accompanied by heavy localized rain, high winds, and flash floods, as well as damage to homes, infrastructure, trees, and electrical equipment.

Several hurricanes left parts of Maryland in disarray. Some of them include:

  • Hurricane Isabel in 2003 brought in a storm surge of over 8 feet, plus 7 inches of rain. It destroyed more than 2,500 piers. The cost of damages was estimated at around $5 billion.

  • Hurricane Irene in 2011 was the most damaging hurricane to affect the state. It brought in hurricane-force winds that destroyed infrastructure, caused extensive flooding and power outages. The cost exceeded $151 million (2011 USD).

  • Hurricane Sandy in 2012 brought in a high tide, widespread flooding combined with mud, extensive damage to trees, and resulted in 84.3 million gallons of spilled sewage.

Tropical storms and hurricanes are incredibly powerful storms, so preparing for them should become a priority for those who are at risk.

Perform a risk assessment of your home. Consider installing shutters to protect your windows and identifying other vulnerabilities within your home that may need to be rebuilt or strengthened.

In this guide, we highlight recommendations to mitigate hurricane damage as well as how to stay safe during the storm.

3. Severe Storms

Severe thunderstorms can occur year-round in Maryland, however, the peak season is between the summer months of July and August.

During those months, there’s approximately one thunderstorm every five days. The state’s average precipitation is 59 inches annually.

Severe storms occur when cold and warm air masses collide. They can happen suddenly and oftentimes are accompanied by heavy rainfall, strong winds, hail, and lightning.

Maryland ranks 25th among all US states when it comes to lightning-related fatalities. The largest hail stone reported in the state measured 4 inches in diameter.

Maryland’s deadliest natural disaster was when the Pan American Flight 214 was hit by lightning on December 8, 1963. All 8 crew members and 73 passengers were killed. The jet was en route from Baltimore to Philadelphia.

One of the worst storms to affect the Old Line State was the North American Derecho of 2012. This became one of the fastest-moving thunderstorms in the US’ recorded history, traveling from Iowa east until it reached Maryland.

Thunderstorms covered the entire state, wind speeds reached up to 77 mph, and lightning strikes were nonstop— based on records taken from one satellite, there were 1,100 lightning strikes in a period of only 5 minutes! This derecho caused major power outages and damages that exceeded $2.9 billion USD.

Thunderstorms and lightning are fascinating to watch but they’re extremely dangerous. A lightning strike can travel as far as 10 miles outside of the storm area.

It’s important to find a safe place of shelter if a severe storm is forecasted. Since these storms tend to occur mostly between the late spring, summer, and early fall, it coincides with a lot of people spending more time indoors. This contributes to a higher hazard risk.

Read our guide to learn how you can stay safe during thunderstorms here!

4. Winter Storms

Maryland winters are known for having snowstorms and occasional blizzards or nor’easters. During this season, many residents take advantage of Wisp, the state’s one and only ski resort.

Each year, it’s common for at least one storm to bring in more than five inches of snow in a day. Most of the heavy snowfall occurs during the month of February.

The state records an average of 22 inches of snow annually but it ranges a lot from one region to the next. The lower Eastern Shore gets around 10 inches whereas Garrett County, for instance, gets approximately 110 inches.

The Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland stay cool during the winter months, but the Western part of the state is the coldest and gets the most snow.

On rare occasions, a blizzard will bring in 10 or more inches to the Old Line State. One of the worst winter storms to affect Maryland occurred in February 2010 and was called “snowmageddon”.

Back-to-back blizzards buried Maryland in over 4 feet of snow. The first storm rolled in on February 5th and 6th. The second storm came only 5 days later with more heavy snow and damaging winds.

The storms left motorists stranded, buried vehicles completely, canceled flights and closed airports, shut down schools, caused roofs and trees to collapse under the weight of the snow, and made emergency calls extremely difficult to answer. Nearly 151,000 residents were left without electricity.

The winter weather is generally mild in the state of Maryland, but occasionally it can be intense. It’s important to be prepared for the crazy storms that occur once every handful of years.

In our winter storm preparedness guide, we discuss mitigation strategies and preparedness tips so that you’re not caught unprepared in a dangerous situation, especially if a blizzard or nor’easter happens. Learn more here!

5. Tornadoes

The Old Line State averages 3 tornadoes a year, most of which occur between May and July. Even though they’re not too common, they can cause a lot of wind damage.

On September 24, 2001, the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area was confronted with a tornado outbreak. Of the 9 confirmed tornadoes, only one ripped through Maryland. It had an intensity of F3 and traveled 17.5 miles, from Chillum to Savage.

This tornado uprooted and snapped trees, tossed at least 560 vehicles around, damaged 861 homes, destroyed more than 23 businesses, tore apart trailer classrooms at the University of Maryland, scattered debris for up to 60 miles, injured 50 people, and killed two. The total cost of damaged totaled $73 million USD.

The strongest recorded tornado in the state was an F4 tornado that occurred on April 28, 2002. It ripped through downtown La Plata, and traveled through Calvert and Charles Counties.

It covered more than 30 miles, starting in West Virginia and headed east until it changed course over the Potomac River.

This tornado produced hail of up to 4.5 inches in diameter, it caused extensive damage to roofs and the siding of buildings, nearly 860 homes and 194 businesses were destroyed and 5 people died. The aftermath was described as a war zone. 

Even though tornadoes are not Maryland’s biggest natural disaster threat, it’s important to be aware of their potential and become prepared in the event of future tornado events.

Learn what a tornado watch and tornado warning means, and identify the safest place to take refuge until the threat has passed.

In this preparedness guide, you can learn what to do to secure your home and property, as well as how to stay safe.

6. Wildfires

Wildfires in Maryland can occur any time of year but the weather conditions make it more prone between the spring and fall months.

Each year, the state fire departments respond to an average of 5,000 fires and the Forest Service responds to an average of 200. While the majority of these fires tend to be small, some can burn hundreds to thousands of acres of grass, brush, and forest land. 

In Maryland specifically, an estimated 96% of these fires are linked to human activity, such as equipment malfunction, careless burning of debris, campfires or cigarettes that have burned out of control, misuse of fireworks, and arson. The remaining 4% are linked to natural causes such as lightning.

The worst fire in the state’s history was the Great Baltimore Fire that occurred in 1904 from February 7 to 8. In as little as 31 hours, over 1,500 buildings burned to the ground and 1,000 sustained major damage.

The estimated loss was calculated at $100 million (1904 USD). It is speculated that a discarded cigarette started the fire and wind fueled it.

Preparing for a wildfire is crucial, especially if your home is located near forest land. There are several things you can do to protect your home and mitigate possible damage. The best way is by creating defensible space and removing hazardous materials.

In our wildfire preparedness guide, we discuss several important tips.

7. Landslides

Landslides can occur anywhere where there are slopes. They are triggered by periods of heavy precipitation, rapid snowmelt, saturated soil, slope instability, erosion, post-wildfire burn scars, and human disturbances like construction.

The risk of landslides in Maryland depends much on the location. The Old Line State has over 60 hills and mountain ranges. Its point of highest altitude is Backbone Mountain at 3,360 feet.

One of the worst landslides in Maryland’s recent years happened in Baltimore when a retaining wall collapsed and gave way. Ten cars that were parked along 26th street fell onto the railroad tracks as a result.

Oftentimes, a slope formation will show warning signs of the ground’s instability. For instance, you may see forward-falling trees, parallel splits, and the surface of an area that may have dropped several inches.

It’s important to be aware of these signs and reinforce the area if possible in order to mitigate future collapse. If nothing can be done, be prepared by having a rapid escape plan.

In our landslide preparedness guide, you can learn how to keep your family safe and how to protect your home.

8. Power Outages

Due to our vulnerable electrical equipment, power outages can occur everywhere in the United States. They occur for a number of reasons but mostly because of the side-effects of natural disasters and human error.

Human error caused the worst power outage in Maryland’s history. This event is popularly known as the Northeastern Blackout of 2003.

A software bug combined with a peak in demand (because of a heat wave) caused nearly 100 nuclear power generation facilities on the East Coast to shut down completely.

Over 55 million people were affected across 8 US states and Ontario, Canada. The majority of customers experienced a short outage of a few hours, however, some remote locations had to endure the outage for as long as a week.

The derecho in 2012 that traveled from Iowa to Maryland with hurricane-force winds and thunderstorms caused 4.2 million people to lose power across 11 states and Washington, DC. Some locations had to wait between 7 and 10 days to have their power restored.

Can you imagine having to live without power for a day? Two days? Or two weeks?

One day without electricity can be uncomfortable, but consider the possibility of a disaster that causes widespread damage and disrupts the power lines for a week or more. Not only will you have to confront the challenges left by the disaster, but you may have to face them without electricity too.

To prevent becoming overwhelmed, we’ve created this guide to help you navigate the effects of long-term outages. Be sure to download the checklists at the end and keep a copy with your emergency kit for future reference.

9. Extreme Heat

The Old Line State currently averages 10 days of excessive heat. Approximately 110,000 people in the state are vulnerable to extremely high temperatures and unfortunately, this number is expected to increase, as well as the number of heat waves experienced state-wide.

Heat waves are dangerous especially when the air is stagnant and when there are high levels of humidity. They exasperate the periods of drought.

In July 2020, Maryland had one of the worst heat waves in its history. The BWI Marshall Airport recorded 25 days of almost consecutive 90°F or higher temperatures.

Heat waves cannot be controlled therefore it’s important to know what to do in the midst of them in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

High heat can compromise a person's health. It's important to know what to do in the event that you or a loved one experiences a heat-related illness. In our extreme heat preparedness guide, you can learn what the symptoms of heat illness are, as well as other safety tips and mitigation strategies.

Natural disaster resources for Maryland

Maryland is vulnerable to different types of natural disasters and preparing for them can feel overwhelming at times.

The following resources are a great place to get started in your preparedness journey!

  • Be sure to stay updated with what’s going on with the weather. One of the best apps to consider downloading is the National Weather Service App (NOAA Weather Radio).

    You can expect to receive emergency alerts and warnings in real-time, which is ideal if you don’t spend all day listening to the news or radio.

    Another place to get updated information is via your local news or radio stations, either on TV or through their social media accounts.
  • Disasters are complex and putting together a family emergency plan can become overwhelming because there’s simply too much information out there. But no worries! We’ve simplified the process for you.

    In our disaster guides, you will find detailed information for each of the specific hazards, including how to prevent damage to your home and property, how to stay safe (before, during, and after), and much more.

    Each guide has a free checklist at the end which you can print and keep for future use. Find all of our disaster guides here. 

  • Emergency preparedness is not something you have to tackle on your own. In fact, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a great option for those who want to receive some hands-on training and experience.

    This organization hosts free classes and disaster simulations taught by law enforcement professionals and first responders. Find your local CERT here.

  • An amazing way to give back to your community after a disaster occurs is by joining  Maryland’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD). VOAD is essentially an organization that helps to bridge the gap between a community in need and those needs being met.

    For instance, if you have a business that bottles water, and the affected community is lacking water, VOAD will contact you to see if you’re able to give some water bottles as a non-profit. It’s remarkable how big a difference one person, business, and community can make in lending a helping hand to those experiencing sudden hardship.

    Another organization worth mentioning is the American Red Cross. They provide assistance to communities immediately after natural disasters.

  • If you need more help with hazard mitigation, disaster preparedness, or post-disaster relief within the state, you will find additional information on the Maryland Emergency Management Agency website.

I hope you enjoyed learning about natural hazards in Maryland.

We created an in-depth resource with guides, templates, and checklists that will allow you to customize your emergency plans according to your specific needs. Click here to get started!

Want to look up another state? Find out which disasters are likely to happen in other parts of the United States here!

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