It was a storm of Shakespearean splendor -- full of sound and fury and "out, outages" and lightning bright as klieg spots. And for thousands of residents in Southeast Washington and Prince George's and Loudoun counties, the storm dropped a blackout curtain over their homes that lasted for several hours.
A double line of thunderstorms swept across the Washington area last night on southeasterly winds that by some estimates gusted up to 50 miles an hour. High winds and, in places, rapid-fire lightning rent utility lines and felled trees, but no serious injuries and only minor traffic accidents were reported.
The Potomac Electric Power Co. reported power outages affecting 8,500 homes in southern Prince George's County and Southeast Washington. A Virginia Power Co. spokesman had no estimates but said the blackouts "nearly covered" the area from Leesburg south to Fredericksburg.
Hail was reported in Alexandria and Fort Belvoir, but a Fairfax Station resident described the weather in her neighborhood as "a lot of noise and not much rain." Power failures at Springfield Mall darkened shops, shut down movies and turned off traffic lights, but a Federal Aviation Administration police officer at Dulles International Airport said, "What storm? It's not even raining here."
Carl Wesley Porter of Falls Church said a twister apparently touched down in his neighborhood, snapping off the trunks of several trees and pitching two onto his roof.
"This is called the Great Forest subdivision, and it's well named," Porter said. "My neighbor's tree across the street is three, maybe four feet in diameter, and it just wrenched the trunk off halfway."
A National Weather Service forecaster said that though "we've had a lot of people call and ask us about tornadoes because the winds were so high, we haven't had any reports of actual funnel clouds."
The first line of showers passed through the area in the late afternoon, and an arc of heavier thunderstorms arrived about 7:30. They picked their way arbitrarily across the region, dumping as much as an inch of rain on Rockville and parts of Bethesda before rush hour but displaying little of the bluster that jerked down power lines elsewhere.
Fairfax County police reported several house fires apparently sparked by lightning, and a number of downed utility lines, but no injuries. U.S. Park Police said downed trees and heavy flooding along the lower George Washington Parkway and below Fort Hunt had forced traffic detours.
Last night's rains at least supplied some relief from the heat: The temperature at National Airport dropped from 89 degrees at 7 p.m. to 75 an hour later. Forecasters said the highs today will likely stay in the high 80s and that the humidity will be slightly reduced.