Severe storm smacks Merrimack Valley

Six inches of rain pounded Lawrence on Tuesday morning, triggering flash flooding throughout the city and endangering lives, including that of a woman on Parker Street who was pulled from her vehicle by fire and rescue personnel.

The driver, who was alone, drove into a flood-prone area at Parker and Merrimack streets and panicked as water rose swiftly above her door, reaching a depth of between 4 and 5 feet, Lawrence Deputy Fire Chief Jack Meaney said.

The woman was transferred and treated by ambulance personnel, and was not believed to have needed additional treatment.

Lawrence fire and rescue safely removed a person from a flooded car at Center and Arlington streets, and assisted people at numerous homes where basements and yards flooded and water poured through roofs, the deputy chief said.

Fire personnel killed power at multiple locations to safeguard against electrical failures and fires.

All 24 on-duty personnel, along with the fire chief, deputy chief and two other department members, responded to some 60 alarms or emergencies between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Response areas included Prospect Hill, Tower Hill, Jackson Street near Methuen, and Inman, Market, Berkeley and Sheridan streets as well as Winthrop Avenue and the Motor Vehicle Registry parking lot.

Emergency personnel were running from one call to another and hard-pressed to keep pace with the rash of emergencies, he said.

“We were spread pretty thin,” said Meaney, a 31-year veteran of the department.

Elsewhere in Lawrence, Merrimack Valley Transit relied on detours to maintain regular scheduled bus service, said General Manager Jesus Guillermo.

Local transit buses stopped briefly Tuesday morning from about 11:30 to 11:45 when intense rainfall flooded parts of the city, including Parker Street near the intersection with Merrimack Street, he said.

In North Andover, the owner of Jaime’s Restaurant, Jaime Faria, posted online that his High Street business sustained only minimal damage, but several neighboring businesses did not do as well.

The pond in the back of the East Mill flooded and water ran through the front of the mill, knocking out windows and doors, he said.

The severe weather flooded roads, stranded drivers and upset public transportation throughout the state. MBTA service was briefly disrupted by flooding in some areas of Boston, The Associated Press reported.

Locally, Lawrence was the hardest hit by the late-morning, early afternoon downpour. The city received 6.2 inches of rainfall; Tewksbury, 5.6 inches, and Andover, 4.4 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

In July, the Merrimack Valley was spared the flooding that plagued parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and farms in western Massachusetts, but the rain here was unusually heavy.

Between June 1 and July 22, Methuen received 15.89 inches or 112% more rain than the 30-year average for June and July.

Wild swings in precipitation, from brutally dry to wet, are the expected outcomes of climate change, according to UMass Lowell climate scientist Matt Barlow.

Barlow and a team of climate scientists have researched this weather effect in the Boston area, the propensity for pinballing between drought and flooding.

They published their findings in 2022 in a report titled “Climate Change Impacts and Projections for the Greater Boston Area.”

Hotter weather draws more moisture from the ground to the atmosphere, creating drought conditions, Barlow said.

For rain to occur, humidity at the upper levels must approach 100%, and the moisture needed to reach that threshold rises as the temperature rises. If the threshold is not reached, it is a humid day.

If the threshold is reached, with the additional moisture, there is more rain – a harder rain, he said. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water.

A NASA-led study published in the Water Journal in March and based on 20 years of satellite data confirmed that droughts and floods are more frequent, Barlow said.

“That is what we expect in a warming climate, that kind of whiplash,” he said.