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Sandy's Impact on Chesapeake Bay Less Than Expected

Wind directions, low temperatures and a dry summer all mitigated Hurricane Sandy's impact on the Bay.

The impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Chesapeake Bay was less than expected by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"The good news is that this storm came so late in the season that all of our underwater grasses in the Bay are going into a dormant phase like the trees," said Bruce Michael, who is the director of resource assessment for DNR. "A storm of this magnitude would have had a much more detrimental impact on the Bay if it were to come in June or July when things are much more active and alive."

The summer was also a dry one, which means reservoirs were at much lower levels and could accommodate more storm water, Michael said. He expects the Susquehanna River, which enters the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay in Havre de Grace, to peak tomorrow night at 8 p.m.

DNR estimates the maximum speed of the water will be 174,000 cubic feet per second—less than half the speed necessary to pull sediment into the Bay.

Tropical Storm Lee, which hit Maryland in September 2011, dumped four million tons of sediment into the Bay and was far more harmful, Michael said.

"That is fairly good news," Michael said. "I know a lot of people that have lost power and have damage might not see it that way."

Sandy's winds, which pushed water from west to east, were also in the Bay's favor.

"We experienced a blowout event," said David Smith, an associate professor of Oceanography at the U.S. Naval Academy. "What that means is that the water tended to blow out of the tributaries and the Bay into the ocean."

As a result, Maryland's western shore experienced far less erosion than it did during previous storms like Hurricane Isabel in 2003, Smith said.

The heavy winds also stirred the water in the Chesapeake, which Smith said can help redistribute oxygen more evenly from the surface to the bottom. This benefits fish and other sea creatures.

The fate of the oysters planted this summer as part of Maryland's Oyster Recovery Program appears positive as well.

"Any time our Chesapeake Bay sees a storm, especially one as large as Sandy, there are potential impacts like excessive sediment and fresh water that can impact the Bay’s already fragile ecosystem and in particular its oyster reefs," said Stephan Abel, executive director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership. "Fortunately, the storm happened after the Oyster Recovery Partnership and its coalition of partners completed our large-scale oyster restoration and spat-on-shell planting efforts for the 2012 season and after natural spawning occurred."

The news across Maryland's western shore wasn't all positive in Sandy's wake. In Howard County, 20 to 25 million gallons of wastewater entered the Little Patuxent River in Savage after the county's wastewater plant lost power on Monday night.

Howard County utilities bureau chief said the wastewater entering the river is not a major health concern because it made up less than one percent of the fluid in the river.

DNR staff has been out since Monday collecting samples from across the Bay and its tributaries to confirm their suspicions about the storm's impact.

Micheal said results won't be available for a month, but he anticipates the data to confirm that the Chesapeake Bay survived Hurricane Sandy much better than expected.

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