Rhode Island streets turn to rivers amid nearly 11 inches of rain

Heavy rain throughout the Northeast will alleviate extreme drought conditions, but too much fell too fast

Drought-busting heavy rain continues to pour down Tuesday across parts of the Northeast, a day after substantial rainfall inundated major highways, requiring water rescues across the region as roofs collapsed and water spilled into college dorms.

More than 10 inches of rain fell just south of Providence, R.I., on Monday, causing the National Weather Service to issue a flash flood warning. Storms passing over the same areas repeatedly dumped rain for hours, turning city streets into rivers.

A dramatic scene developed on Interstate 95, where flooding rains pooled under a bridge, causing a massive traffic backup on the busy highway. Local reporters said five cars were stuck in the flood, forcing passengers to hop onto the highway’s divider to escape the rising waters. As the water continued to pool up, police officers worked hard to inch the traffic jam backward to keep more people out of the floodwaters.

Flood damage was reported across the city. Heavy rains appeared to cause at least one building to collapse, with debris pouring into the street. On another road, the strength of the floodwaters appeared to rip up the asphalt, with chunks of pavement ending up wedged under parked vehicles.

At Brown University in Providence, about 30 students were temporarily displaced when floodwaters infiltrated their dorm’s first floor, according to local affiliate WPRI.

Videos shared on social media showed students walking through dark and flooded hallways. University spokesperson Brian Clark told 12 News Providence that the university would help students find housing for the night if they were unable to return to their rooms.

As flooding worsened Monday afternoon, Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee (D) called for all residents to “avoid all unnecessary travel,” saying that teams were working to unclog drains and reopen highways.

Deluges were also reported outside Providence, as heavy rains flooded intersections in Cranston, R.I., leaving the streets in the suburb looking more like raging rivers.

As of Tuesday morning, Cranston had seen 10.83 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service. In Providence, as of 7 a.m. local time, 8.31 inches of rain has fallen.

In Norwich, Conn., 4.6 inches of rain caused minor flooding. Social media videos showed the lower level of a parking garage inundated by several inches of water, as well as standing water piling up in the parking lot of a local shopping plaza.

The heavy rainfall will help to ease the widespread drought that has been impacting a wide swath of the Northeast — although it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. During prolonged periods of drought, topsoil — baked by heat and the evaporating effects of the sun — hardens up, making it unable to absorb heavy rainfall.

In Rhode Island, where more than half the state is experiencing extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the soil was simply unable to handle the nearly 11 inches of rain that fell.

Now, parts of the Northeast may have the opposite problem, with heavy rain falling again today on now-saturated soils, causing the National Weather Service to issue flood watches that at one point stretched from Washington to Boston, and covered the entire states of New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Following Monday’s deluge, heavy rain is again pushing through Rhode Island on Tuesday morning, including in Providence, where a flood warning is in effect until 4 p.m. The warning, which extends into Worcester, Mass., and the southern suburbs of Boston, warns that flooding is imminent or ongoing in low-lying areas and local waterways, with another 2 inches of rainfall possible over the day.

Although just about an inch of rain fell in Washington, radar estimated more than 3 inches in upper Montgomery County and southeast Frederick County in its northern suburbs.

In Philadelphia, heavy rainfall Tuesday morning caused water to pool on the Schuylkill Expressway, grinding traffic to a halt. Radar estimates show that more than 5 inches of rain have fallen northwest of the city, prompting flash flood warnings for suburbs including Ardmore and King of Prussia.

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