Even when a hurricane is all but a zombie, it can still do serious damage. The remnants of Hurricane Ida, now a tropical depression, unleashed hours of heavy rains and threatened thousands of people on the East Coast on Wednesday just two days after the storm made landfall and caused widespread destruction in Louisiana.
The National Weather Service has put out flash flood warnings for multiple counties in Pennsylvania and said flash floods and serious rain could continue through Thursday, with up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain possible in some areas. Parts of Pennsylvania, as well as chunks of Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey, are also under a tornado watch until 10 p.m. Wednesday. Already soaked soil from heavy precipitation over the past few weeks, officials said, could increase the potential for mudslides and other impacts.
“Please, if you can stay home today, please stay home,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said during a press conference on Wednesday, where he announced he had signed an emergency disaster declaration for the state. “The best thing all of us can do right now is to stay home and stay safe.” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also urged residents to stay off the roads.
NWS meteorologist Nick Carr told NBC 10 Philadelphia that Ida has regained strength getting a jolt of energy from a low-pressure system near the East Coast. “It is getting re-energized, so to speak,” he said. “It landed as a tropical storm in Louisiana, then as it goes over land, it begins to weaken. But as it gets up to our latitude, it feeds off temperature gradients and it gets re-energized.”
The weather is already wreaking havoc across the region. Across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, federal data showed major flooding at nine river gauges and moderate flooding at 37 gauges as of Thursday evening. Heavy rains like those from Tropical Depression Ida and the multiple no-name storms around the U.S. this year are symptoms of the climate crisis. More water can accumulate in a hotter atmosphere, raising the risk of destructive downpours.
In Shaler Township outside of Pittsburgh, a school bus full of kids got stuck in floodwaters on the road on their way to school. Officials had to use boats to rescue the students, who all were evacuated safely, out of the back of the bus. In Annapolis, Maryland, a tornado hit around 2 p.m. causing damage to school buildings. In Lower Providence Township, near Philadelphia, officials are warning that a creek that’s normally 16 inches (40 centimeters) deep could surge to near 18 feet (6 meters) by 12 p.m. on Thursday. (Waters there are already rising.)
On Wednesday afternoon, around 3,000 people living downstream from a dam were evacuated from an area near the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which is 56 miles (90 kilometers) east of Pittsburgh. Officials said Wednesday that, contrary to rumors on social media, the Wilmore Dam had not failed, but water had reached the level where “the emergency action plan has called for us to mandate an evacuation in the inundation areas downstream from the dam,” Cambria County emergency management director and 911 center head Art Martynuska told NBC 10 Philadelphia.
Martynuska said that they were also keeping an eye on the nearby Hinckston Run Dam. Both dams were built in the early 1900s and earned “poor” ratings in inspections conducted in September 2020. The region is the site of the deadly 1889 Johnstown Flood, which killed 2,200 people after a dam failed.