By Ashley Halsey III and Chris Twarowski
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 13, 2009
Winds descended with near-hurricane force before dawn yesterday, rattling roofs, toppling trees onto power lines and cutting off electricity to thousands of people across the region.
Power was sporadic throughout the day as repair crews tried to avoid a sustained wind above 45 mph that could have toppled their bucket trucks.
The band of gusty weather stretched from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic coast, hurling about all but the most solid things in its path. Half a million customers lost power in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Thousands of outages also were reported in New Jersey, Tennessee, New York, Indiana, North Carolina and Delaware.
A New Jersey driver was killed when a tree blew through her windshield, and a falling wall fatally crushed a New York construction worker. Interstate 90 was closed for three hours west of Erie, Pa., after a power line fell across it, and the wind sent an uprooted crossing gate flying into a Long Island Rail Road train, disrupting the morning commute into New York.
The first megawinds arrived here after 4 a.m. A 65-mph gust was recorded in Rockville; Reagan National Airport reported a 51-mph gust; and Frederick clocked one at 62 mph. Six hours later, the District felt a 52-mph blast and Reston recorded 47 mph.
Dan Stillman, a meteorologist with the Capital Weather Gang at washingtonpost.com, said the local wallop was part of the larger national picture. A storm that caused Midwestern misery for days passed to the north of us, sweeping across New England.
Strong winds off the tail end of that storm caused the 20-mph to 30-mph wind yesterday, he said, and the stronger gusts came when those winds sucked down portions of the jet stream, which was blowing at 100 mph to 200 mph at a high altitude.
Today will be blustery, with sustained winds of about 20 mph and gusts reaching 35 mph, he said.
By tomorrow, the region's flirtation with the notion of an early spring will dissolve into the normal, damp, dreary chill that is winter in Washington.
"Winter definitely comes back over the next few days," Stillman said.
In Northern Virginia, Dominion Virginia Power reported last night that more than 2,500 customers remained without electricity, down from 12,200 earlier in the day. Baltimore Gas and Electric said that it had restored power to almost 12,000 Washington area customers but that 700 people remained without power last night.
The section of Montgomery County adjoining Rock Creek Park was particularly hard-hit, but Pepco reported that most of the power was restored there by 9 p.m. More than 2,200 outages remained last night in parts of Prince George's County.
Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson said the number of customers without power fluctuated throughout the day, with trees taking down additional power lines even as crews replaced others.
Officer Erika Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Prince William County police, said high winds knocked down several power lines in the Dumfries district yesterday afternoon. Fairfax County police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said that officers responded to scattered intersections where traffic lights had gone out because of the wind. Loudoun County Sheriff's Office spokesman Kraig Troxell said police had been responding to calls of trees falling since about 8 p.m. Wednesday.
In Montgomery, the wind brought down a power line in rural Barnesville, and the sparks caused a 12-acre brush fire, one of at least two in the county. And in Prince George's, firefighters battled a handful of wind-driven brush fires.
Staff writer Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.