Storm Somewhat Quells Dry Spell

By Nelson Hernandez and Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A powerful storm that has dumped two to four inches of rain on the Washington region and is expected to continue into this afternoon has not freed the area from the grip of a drought that began in the summer.

As of yesterday afternoon, a station at Reagan National Airport had recorded 1.9 inches of rain during the two-day storm, according to the National Weather Service. A monitoring station at Dulles International Airport reported 3.79 inches. One community in northern Frederick County reported 4.05 inches of rain yesterday morning.

The figures increased steadily yesterday as continuously overcast skies spattered and sprayed rain on motorists and those caught outdoors. Authorities reported numerous minor auto accidents across the region, flooding in Anne Arundel and Frederick counties yesterday, and three tornadoes, all on Sunday.

One ripped the roof off an elementary school in Prince George's County, and another downed trees in Charles County. The third, which was confirmed last night by the Weather Service, damaged trees, outbuildings and a barn on a farm in Middletown, Va., about 65 miles west of the District.

No injuries were reported in the incidents.

Calvin Meadows, a meteorological technician for the Weather Service station in Sterling, said yesterday afternoon that the storm was almost over.

"It looks like about midnight it will have moved offshore and it'll be winding down," he said. The Weather Service predicted a 30 percent chance of showers today, with the skies becoming more calm and clear heading into tomorrow.

Despite the soggy weather, water flows in most of Virginia and parts of Maryland bordering the District remain below average, according to the Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center. The area faced drought conditions during the unusually dry summer, and a fall and winter free of major storms did little to help. As of Sunday, the region's rain deficit for the past year ranged from 6.5 inches in the District to 14.9 inches in Calvert County.

The recent rains are not enough to close the gap, said Daniel Soeder, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey Water Science Center in Maryland.

"It's not as bad of a drought, but it's still there," Soeder said. "We're going to need a series of storms like this to get us out."

He added that the rainfall would have to be spread out over time to avoid flooding.

A team of three USGS hydrologic technicians worked in a drizzle at the northwest branch of the Anacostia River in Hyattsville yesterday, lowering a catamaran-like measuring device into the stream's choppy brown waters. After taking 22 readings, they reported that the river's flow exceeded 1,000 cubic feet of water per second; the river's average flow for that day of the year is 46 cubic feet per second.

The site was not far from the George E. Peters Adventist School in Hyattsville, where a tornado with winds of up to 100 mph ripped the roof off the multipurpose room Sunday afternoon, flinging pieces of wood and resin shingles across the school's parking lot and shattering windows at the neighboring Metropolitan Seventh-day Adventist Church.

As they took stock of the damage yesterday and searched for a temporary home, faculty members and parents at the private school said they were grateful that no one was hurt and added that they would rebuild.

"God has sent a message to us one more time that He is in control," said Evelyn Savory, principal of the school, where nearly 200 children attend pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. "This is just a setback."

Several roads were closed Monday in Sabillasville because of flooding, a spokesman for Frederick's emergency services office said. Fire and rescue personnel pulled several people from the tops of their cars Sunday, but police said no one was reported injured or missing.

Minor flooding also was reported in Anne Arundel, where a handful of roads were closed to traffic.

A tornado northeast of La Plata in Charles County snapped and uprooted several trees, and county commissioners announced free debris pickup Thursday and Monday for residents affected by the storm.

"The important thing here is for us to convey to the public that we are concerned about their welfare and we want to help," said Commissioner Gary V. Hodge (D-St. Charles).

Gary Greenlee was taking a nap in the front bedroom of his Waldorf home Sunday when he heard a gust of wind tear through his neighborhood. What he didn't realize was that it was one of the tornadoes.

"It was a terrific wind, all right," Greenlee said, looking out at his front yard, which was littered with debris and tree limbs. "But I didn't know anything about a tornado until just now."

Staff writers Hamil R. Harris and Martin Weil contributed to this report.

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