Heavy Rain, Winds Hammer Region

Drivers navigate Poplar Hill Road in Waldorf. Charles County officials shut down roads in the La Plata/Port Tobacco area  because of rising water. Some motorists had to call for help.
Drivers navigate Poplar Hill Road in Waldorf. Charles County officials shut down roads in the La Plata/Port Tobacco area because of rising water. Some motorists had to call for help. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 2006

A series of violent storms, packing high winds and drenching rain, raced through the Washington area yesterday -- at times as fast as 60 mph -- felling trees, flooding roads and sparking a day-long regional tornado alert.

Although the National Weather Service spotted cloud rotation on radar and issued tornado warnings for areas around Fredericksburg and Woodbridge during the day, it was not clear whether any twisters had materialized, officials said.

But the weather inflicted damage as it tore north along Interstate 95 from mid-morning through mid-afternoon. The worst of it had moved on by the evening rush hour, leaving behind deluged intersections, about 8,000 power outages and many trees stripped of their autumn leaves.

Today's forecast called for partly cloudy, dry weather, forecasters said.

Yesterday's rain began lightly in Washington about 8 a.m. but was coming in buckets in some areas by noon. Visibility for motorists was reduced to near zero. The weather service issued a tornado watch just before 11 a.m., which lasted until 6 p.m. A watch means conditions make a tornado possible.

As things worsened and the roiled skies went from gray to black, weather service radar picked up rotation in several of the storm cells. Tornado warnings were issued for southern Prince William County, Stafford County, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County. A warning means a tornado is happening, or might be about to happen. The warnings expired after about an hour.

Officials said two to three inches of rain fell across the region. At 2:45 p.m., the weather service issued a flash-flood warning for the District, Prince George's and Arlington counties and Alexandria. It expired at 5:45 p.m.

In Virginia, highway officials said that about 70 roads, mostly secondary thoroughfares, were closed because of flooding. The storm prompted the Fairfax County school system to cancel evening activities.

In Maryland, officials in Anne Arundel County decided at 11 a.m. to close schools one hour early.

"We have a lot of low-lying areas, and with possibly flooding streets, the longer you wait, the more storm damage you get and the trickier it becomes getting students home," said school spokesman Bob Mosier.

The early closing, which included cancellation of all after-school activities, was the first of the year in Anne Arundel, and could extend into delays this morning. "We're making the determination . . . after we see if there's any kind of downed trees or power lines," Mosier said.

In Prince George's, firefighters sent a boat to rescue three people from a farm equipment store in Upper Marlboro that was swamped by rising water. But they declined assistance, said Mark Brady, a spokesman for the county's fire department, adding that the situation was not life-threatening. Elsewhere, roads were closed because of high water.


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