Alexandria and areas nearby are under a Severe Thunderstorm Watch this evening and a Flood Watch.
The National Weather Service issued a Flood Watch earlier today (Monday), cautioning flooding may occur this evening and a Severe Thunderstorm Watch is in effect until 10 p.m.
“Excessive runoff may result in flooding of rivers, creeks, streams, and other low-lying and flood-prone locations,” the Flood Watch reads. “Afternoon to evening showers and thunderstorms may produce very heavy rainfall capable of flash flooding. This could include multiple rounds of storms which would enhance the flood risk. Rainfall rates may reach 1 to 2 inches per hour, locally higher in spots. The D.C. and Baltimore metros will be the most susceptible given recent heavy rainfall the past couple of weeks.”
The National Weather Service advises residents to monitor forecasts and be prepared in case of flash floods.
A Severe Thunderstorm Watch is in effect through 10PM tonight. The primary threats for storms today are damaging winds and isolated tornadoes. #DCwx #MDwx #VAwx #WVwx pic.twitter.com/BeKEyqBjAV
— NWS Baltimore-Washington (@NWS_BaltWash) July 18, 2022
The City of Alexandria has a handful of irons in the fire when it comes to stormwater management, but one new approach is one of the oldest tactics: storing runoff in rain barrels.
The city announced yesterday that it’s planning to offer a limited supply of free rain barrels, with more available via raffle at the city libraries.
“The City of Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES) Stormwater Management Division will be offering a limited supply of free rain barrels to residents living in the City,” the city said in a release. “Complete the application form by July 31 to register for a free rain barrel. Additionally, a limited number of rain barrels will be reserved for raffles at each of the four library branch locations in the City.”
Those hoping to get a rain barrel must be city residents and have to demonstrate how and where the barrel will be used — presumably to collect rainwater.
“The City encourages the use of rain barrels which capture and store runoff from roofs that would otherwise be directed into the storm sewer network,” the release said.
The city said additional benefits include collecting water to use in gardening and the user is eligible for a credit towards the stormwater utility fee for installation and proper use of a rain barrel — the latter incentive is particularly relevant with stormwater utility fees going up this year.
“This program is in partnership with the Northern Virginia Rain Barrel Partnership Program, sponsored through the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District,” the release said. “The Partnership hosts build-your-own rain barrel workshops throughout the Northern Virginia area.”
Photo via Waldemar Brandt/Unsplash
(Updated 3:40 p.m.) Keep an eye on the skies: Alexandria is under a severe thunderstorm watch and a flash flood warning.
“The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Warning for Alexandria,” the city said in a release. “Avoid small streams and do not drive through water on roadways.”
Rain has started to fall around the city. The last big storm brought in severe power outages in late May. Dominion Energy warned of more outages as the year moves into hurricane season, though none are reported around the city yet as of 3 p.m.
The severe thunderstorm watch is in effect until 9 p.m.
A severe thunderstorm watch has been issued for parts of DE, DC, MD, NJ, PA, VA, WV until 9 PM EDT pic.twitter.com/MjxFniPn83
— NWS Severe Tstorm (@NWSSevereTstorm) June 2, 2022
After a Sunday storm that knocked out power to much of the city, some locals suggested Dominion Energy look into undergrounding more of its utilities, but the power company says costs and other factors keep that from being a viable option on a city-wide scale.
Alan Bradshaw, vice president of strategic partnerships for Dominion Energy, said commissioned studies found the cost of undergrounding all utilities to be “outlandish.”
Northern Virginia Magazine previously reported that the price tag for state-wide undergrounding is around $80 billion.
“Undergrounding is frequently brought up, especially during storms,” Bradshaw said. “The state corporation commissioned a study but installation cost is outlandish and would impact customers and their bills.”
I wonder how much undergrounded power lines would have helped keep power on last night @DominionEnergy ?? We need to talk more openly about this, because storms are going to get worse, due in part to climate change.
— John Taylor Chapman (@j_chapman99) May 23, 2022
Instead, Bradshaw said Dominion has been “strategically undergrounding” to protect some of the more vulnerable power lines.
“We took the opportunity a few years ago, not to underground everything, but to underground some of the more outage-prone lines,” Bradshaw said. “We use ten-year outage histories to identify most outage-prone lines and target the neighborhood lines we go to frequently. We’re undergrounding that for much less cost than undergrounding the entire system.”
Bradshaw did note that undergrounding isn’t viable in every location and — while not citing Alexandria specifically — did say areas that are prone to flooding also make poor candidates for utility undergrounding.
“Of course, not every area is perfect for undergrounding,” Bradshaw said. “If an area is prone to flooding, that’s probably not something we’d do there.”
Meanwhile, Dominion Energy is warning more outages are likely as the year moves into hurricane season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said conditions are ripe in the Atlantic Ocean for a busy hurricane season.
“The forecast is that we do expect a busy tropical season,” said Alan Bradshaw, vice president of strategic partnerships for Dominion Energy. “The setup is conducive for some of those tracks to come up the coast.”
Bradshaw said Dominion has been upgrading its storm infrastructure, though in ways that may not be immediately apparent to someone driving past. Wooden cross arms, for example, are bein replaced with a lighter but more durable polymer.
“There’s bigger poles, stronger cross arms… a lot of new technology on the grid,” Bradshaw said. “A lot of folks that may drive down the road may see poles and wires and it may look similar to what it did 60 years ago, but there’s a lot of new technology [like] devices that monitor and tell us when there’s damage.”
Bradshaw said recovery efforts prioritize critical infrastructure like hospitals and 911 facilities. Dominion also works in tandem with local agencies on public safety hazards like downed wires.
For locals, Bradshaw said the best thing they can do to help with storm recovery is to report outages, either through an app or through the city website.
The power outages this week were met with frustration from the community.
WHAT DO WE WANT?
ANY FUNCTIONING UTILITIES!
WHEN DO WE WANT IT?
LIKE, TEN YEARS AGO? I MEAN WHAT THE ACTUAL…? I mean, constant, breakneck growth without maintaining, renewing, repairing, and replacing existing infrastructure just seems foolish and maybe we should really think
— Let’s Meat on the Avenue (@LetsmeatDelRay) May 23, 2022
Dominion Energy has previously told the City Council that it would invest $17 million into infrastructure in Alexandria over the next three years as part of an effort to improve reliability, though this pledge was met with some frustration from city officials at the meeting for failing to include any details on what type of improvements that investment entails.
“It’s important to know: our teams are constantly training to be the best when our customers need us most,” Bradshaw said. “When the product we provide is not available it causes issues for our customers. We’re very sensitive to that and motivated on that to get the lights on.”
A severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for Alexandria and the city is starting to see heavy rainfall.
The city is also under an areal flood watch.
“The National Weather Service has issued an Areal Flood Watch for Alexandria,” the city said in a release. “Avoid small streams and do not drive through water on roadways.”
The thunderstorm warning comes almost a week after a severe thunderstorm knocked out power to portions of the city until Monday afternoon.
From the National Weather Service:
BULLETIN – IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
Severe Thunderstorm Warning
National Weather Service Baltimore MD/Washington DC
1147 AM EDT Fri May 27 2022
The National Weather Service in Sterling Virginia has issued a
* Severe Thunderstorm Warning …
* Until 1230 PM EDT.
* At 1146 AM EDT, severe thunderstorms were located along a line extending from Lansdowne to near Chantilly to near Lake Ridge, moving northeast at 40 mph.
HAZARD…60 mph wind gusts.
IMPACT…Damaging winds will cause some trees and large branches to fall. This could injure those outdoors, as well as damage homes and vehicles. Roadways may become blocked by downed trees. Localized power outages are possible. Unsecured light objects may become projectiles.
* Locations impacted include… Arlington, Alexandria, Germantown, Centreville, Rockville, Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Reston, Annandale, Clinton, Olney, Springfield, College Park, South Riding, Fort Washington, Herndon, Greenbelt, Fairfax, Langley Park and Beltsville.
A Tornado Watch remains in effect until 200 PM EDT for District of Columbia…central Maryland…and northern Virginia.
For your protection move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a building.
A Tornado Watch remains in effect until 200 PM EDT for District of Columbia…central Maryland…and northern Virginia.
Updated at 11:15 p.m. It took nearly five hours for the power to turn back on for thousands of Alexandria residents on a steamy Sunday night (May 22).
Alexandria got hit by a severe thunderstorm at around 6 p.m. At 8:36 p.m., Dominion Energy tweeted that there were more than 25,000 homes still without power in Northern Virginia.
According to Dominion Energy’s Outage Map:
- More than 1,300 residents experienced an outage in the Rosemont area
- There were about 2,600 outages in the Arlandria area
Jesse Thompson lives in a high rise Arlandria, and had no power or water for five hours.
“I’m doing about as well as I can right now,” Thompson said during the outage. “This is really something else.”
After a few rocky years outage-wise, Dominion has recently pledged to invest millions in Alexandria.
City Councilman Kirk McPike tweeted that Dominion Energy’s service “continues to be unacceptable.”
Households across Alexandria are suffering a blackout right now. Dominion’s service to our city continues to be unacceptable. You can report a power outage here: https://t.co/ix1t8rBFex pic.twitter.com/tqTvXDAMAm
— R. Kirk McPike (@KirkMcPike) May 22, 2022
There are over 3,300 @DominionEnergy customers presently experiencing an outage throughout the City.
Report outages at 866-366-4357 or online at https://t.co/P7thQdZmld pic.twitter.com/NTjOwWNcYZ
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) May 22, 2022
Fairfax Co has 9,284 outages.
Northern Va: 25,461 customer outages.
We are in full storm-response with extra @DominionEnergy crews on the job.
We hope to bring service back to most by switching. But replacing downed poles wires will take longer.
Thank you for your patience. https://t.co/MSLfbWHGBw pic.twitter.com/GBt7ca4JKZ
— Peggy Fox (@PeggyDomEnergy) May 23, 2022
Alexandrians are being told to seek shelter indoors immediately.
“The National Weather Service has issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Alexandria,” the city said in a release. “Seek indoor shelter immediately.”
The severe storm is expected to last for much of the afternoon with potential for damaging winds or hail.
Weather Service likely to issue severe storm watch for DMV shortly. We expect hit or miss late afternoon and early evening storms. While not everyone will get storms, any storms that do form could produce damaging winds/hail.
Update: https://t.co/nffp1ykYD7 pic.twitter.com/wyKWKvGXfH
— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) May 16, 2022
The risk of severe t'storms over much of our region today is ENHANCED (level 3 of 5). Damaging winds appear to be the primary threat, but hail, a few tornadoes, & flooding are also possible. Remain alert for rapidly changing weather conditions late this AM through the afternoon. pic.twitter.com/G4f1NkUO09
— NWS Baltimore-Washington (@NWS_BaltWash) May 16, 2022
Image via National Weather Service/Twitter
(Updated 8:30 p.m.) As part of an upcoming overview of the budget, Alexandria’s City Council will be considering an increase in the stormwater utility fee (item 16).
The fee is scheduled to increase from $280 to $294 for the stormwater utility fee bill due Nov. 15 this year.
The increase is scheduled for second reading and a public hearing at the meeting on Saturday, April 23, with the final passage of the ordinance scheduled for Wednesday, May 4.
The increase is more modest than last year’s increase, which doubled the stormwater utility fee from $140 to $280 by November. The aim of last year’s fee increase was to help accelerate the timetable for needed stormwater projects.
The City Council is also scheduled to consider budget add/delete proposals as well as the establishment of the real and personal property tax rates, also scheduled for final approval in May.
Nearly a year after Alexandria launched a flood mitigation program to reimburse projects on private properties, the city is apologizing for some delays with the program and said the process should be streamlined soon.
The Flood Mitigation Grant Program partially reimburses residents to install flood mitigation practices on their property. The pilot program launched last August and received over 175 applications. Applicants can receive a reimbursement of up to 50% of their project costs, up to $5,000. So far, the city has reimbursed nearly $300,000 worth of flood mitigation projects. Bill Skrabak, deputy director of Infrastructure & Environmental Quality, said the city was hopeful it would get some use but wasn’t prepared for the number of grant requests.
“We launched the pilot phase of the Flood Mitigation Grant Program feeling hopeful people would take advantage — and we’ve been blown away by the tremendous number of applications submitted to the City,” Skrabak wrote in a city newsletter about flood mitigation. It’s taken us a bit longer than expected to process applications and issue payments. “I apologize for the delays you’ve experienced and can promise you we’re working on ways to speed up the application process to make it easier for you. Please bear with us as we streamline our process.”
Still, Skrabak said some residents have been making modifications to their home, like flood gates and sump pumps, which have helped in subsequent floods. The goal, Skrabak said, is to have private flood mitigations help support the bigger public infrastructure projects that store and convey excessive runoff.
“We understand climate change will continue bringing intense storms that wreak havoc on our region,” Skrabak said. “However, residents can take back some control by taking steps to mitigate flooding on their properties with financial assistance from the City.”
City staff laid out what’s ahead for some of the city’s stormwater infrastructure projects in a presentation prepared for the City Council’s meeting tonight (Tuesday).
Three large projects to increase sewer capacity are planned in Del Ray, according to the Flood Action Alexandria presentation. Two of the projects — a $34 million undertaking at East Glebe Road and Commonwealth Avenue and a $16 million project at Ashby Street and East Glebe Road — were merged together for planning purposes. The two projects are next to each other in the Four Mile Run watershed.
“This project is expected to increase the capacity, or size, of the stormwater sewer pipes; create opportunities for stormwater to be stored and released slowly over time; and incorporate ‘green infrastructure’ practices, such as permeable pavement, that allow the stormwater to soak into the ground, reducing runoff,” the city website states.
The contract for work in the Four Mile Run watershed is estimated to be awarded sometime this spring, with the project targeted for completion in 2025.
Another, called the Hooff’s Run Culvert/Timber Branch Bypass, is at the southern end of Del Ray. The $60 million project will construct a new stormwater pipe system to transport stormwater away from the Hooff’s Run Culvert, helping manage flows from the Timber Branch watershed, the city website states. The city plans to put out a request for qualifications for that project this spring.
Between fiscal years 2023 and 2032, the city proposes to fund $156 million in large capacity projects, $55 million in maintenance, $44 million in spot improvements and $18 million in water quality projects, according to the presentation.
The presentation lists two spot improvement projects in the design phase and another two in construction phase. Spot improvements are small capital projects meant to address localized flooding and draining issues relating to the city’s storm sewer system.
Cul-de-sac inlets and drainage are being designed for the Mount Vernon Avenue cul-de-sac near Blue Park. At Oakland Terrace in Rosemont, the city is in the design phase to stabilize degrading and eroding banks and protect sanitary sewer line.
The city is also increasing inlet capacity at Hume Avenue in the Potomac Yard area, and not far away at Clifford Avenue, and Fulton and Manning streets. The latter work started at the end of February.
Vernon Miles contributed to this article. Photo via City of Alexandria.