Hurricane Preparedness for Maryland’s Historic Properties

by Imania Price, Intern, Office of Planning, Education and Outreach

Photograph by MEMA, Hurricane Isabel Flooding

Flooding from Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Photograph by MEMA.

Tropical storms are common events for the Chesapeake Bay region, especially during the Atlantic Hurricane Season which begins June 1st and ends November 30th.  September is typically Maryland’s most active month for tropical storms and unfortunately, the steady population growth and continuing development near the Bay’s shoreline has increased the risk of human injury and property loss during these forceful storms.

“We discovered the wind and waters so much increased with thunder, lightning , and rain that our mast and sail blew overboard, and such mighty wave over racked us…we were forced to inhabit these uninhabitable Isles which for the extreme of gust, thunder, rain, storms and ill weather, we called Limbo.”

Captain John Smith, The General Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles (1624)

Explorer Captain John Smith and his crew were among the first Europeans to experience a hurricane while sailing up the Chesapeake Bay. However, to encourage colonists to move to the New World, early traveler guides underrated these surprisingly fierce storms, which were far more intense than those experienced in England. Settlers, of course, were undeterred, and throughout the centuries, tropical storms have physically and economically changed the landscape and development of Maryland.  The Great Chesapeake Bay Hurricane of 1769, for example, was most likely responsible for demolishing the booming shipping channels of Maryland’s port town Charlestown and the subsequent rapid growth of Baltimore which emerged as the dominant port on the Chesapeake Bay.

Photograph by Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

Hurricane Isabel’s impact on the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. Photograph by Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

Over the past 20 years, Maryland has experienced severe storm events with increasing frequency, including four major disaster declarations during the 2011 and 2012 hurricane seasons.  Recent storms, Hurricane Irene, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, and Hurricane Sandy have all left irreparable damage to homes and businesses in the Maryland area.

To preserve Maryland’s heritage, it is essential for historic property owners and cultural resources stewards to document any damages to their property and protect their historic site from future hazard events. Many organizations and agencies have produced guidance on emergency preparedness, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation has compiled a list of flood preparation resources to help you protect your property before the storm and respond to damages after the storm. Links to the National Trust’s material and other useful information are provided below.

As the hurricane season continues, the Maryland Historical Trust will provide more hazard mitigation and disaster related information.  Visit the Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Planning Program for information on grants, trainings, and projects related to protecting Maryland’s historic places, archeological sites, and cultural landscapes from the effects of natural hazards, such as flooding, wind and coastal erosion.

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