'Atmospheric Traffic Jam' Pummels Region

By Debbi Wilgoren and Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, June 26, 2006; 4:34 PM

The downpours that pummeled Washington this weekend had stopped -- at least temporarily -- by the time most area residents woke up this morning.

But many in the region spent their Monday dealing with the flooded basements, washed-out roadways and mud-filled cars the storms left behind.

"The whole street got wiped," said Fairfax County resident Geoff Livingston, 34, who evacuated his home on Arlington Terrace at 2:30 a.m. after a tributary of the Potomac River overflowed its banks and roared down his block. "The street had turned into a river . . . water broke through the windows in the basement and just flooded everything."

At Meadowbrook Park in Chevy Chase, dozens of cars were filled with muck and water from when Rock Creek Valley Stream had overflowed into the parking area.

Steve Joshua, who had been playing soccer with a group of men Sunday night, said the area flooded so quickly that he and others had to be evacuated by boat, leaving 50 cars behind.

This morning Joshua was back, examining his "trashed" Acura and the sodden, ruined Jaguars and Mercedes parked nearby.

"We went to the shelter to wait for the rain to stop," Joshua said. "Then all of a sudden, a huge amount of water started coming down from the stream."

The thunderstorms and heavy rains that have been falling here since Thursday are the result of an "atmospheric traffic jam," Accuweather meteorologist John Gresiak said. A high-pressure system over the eastern seaboard is trapping a cold front above the mid-Atlantic states and setting off a chain of thunderstorms each time moist, tropical air moves up from the south.

"We call it a train of thunderstorms, several storms moving through the same area one after another," Gresiak said. "That is what can put down those tremendous amounts of rain."

Tremendous, indeed.

Just over 10 inches of rain fell in Hyattsville over the 24-hour period ending this morning, according to the National Weather Service -- rivaling the record for the highest rainfall ever at Dulles Airport, 10.67 inches that fell during when Hurricane Agnes hit the area on June 21, 1972.

Flooding and power outages forced the closure of several Smithsonian Museums, as well as some of the large government office buildings near the National Mall. Commuters spent hours longer than usual getting to work, navigating around washed-out roads, flooded rail lines and downed trees that left downtown streets and suburban highways equally snarled. Those Metro trains that could get through were jam-packed and moving at a snail's-pace. Shuttle buses between closed stations could not come close to accommodating the stranded crowds.

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