Sporadic heavy rains and strong winds swept through the Washington area yesterday, causing minor damage, knocking out traffic signals and leaving thousands of residents without power.

The Potomac Electric Power Co. reported that 2,500 customers were without power, most of them in Rockville and Bethesda, with the rest of the outages scattered throughout the District and Prince George's County.

Virginia Power reported scattered power outages affecting 3,000 to 5,000 homes in Northern Virginia, with Alexandria the hardest hit.

A possible tornado touched down on Old Chapel Road near the Glendale-Bowie line shortly after 2 p.m., downing trees and blocking Route 450.

There were no injuries, according to Lt. Dave Biddle of the Glendale Volunteer Fire Association, although trees were uprooted, power lines downed and a tree fell on a house.

"I could feel it more than I could see it," said Ron Newkirk, who lives on Old Chapel Road six blocks from where the damage was reported. "Major winds, all the trees were bent over. It touched down six or seven houses down from me. A boat was overturned, siding on houses was ripped off, trees were uprooted."

A minor tornado touched down in Preston, Md., in southern Caroline County, about 11:15 a.m., the National Weather Service and local authorities reported. No injuries were reported.

Maryland State Police in Prince George's County reported an increase in car accidents, and authorities in Anne Arundel County reported minor flooding.

At least three storms passed through the area by early evening, at times dumping sheets of rain that left streets flooded and traffic snarled.

Yesterday, 1.07 inches of rain was measured at National Airport between 2 and 6 p.m. Forecasters said most of that rain apparently fell in about an hour.

The intensity of the rain varied widely over the Washington area. In Sterling, Va., a few miles from Dulles International Airport, 1.85 inches of rain fell in half an hour, forecasters said.

At Dulles, National Weather Service forecaster Edwin Danaher said, only 0.55 inches was measured during the storms.

Area residents tried to make the best of another soggy weekend. There has been measurable precipitation -- one one-hundreth of an inch or more -- on 18 of the past 22 weekends, according to Laura Anderson, a meteorologist with Accu-Weather in State Farm, Pa.

The last time the Washington area had two consecutive weekends without rain was in February.

The most recent weekends without measurable rain were July 7 and June 16.

Throughout the region, the rain measured about eight-tenths of an inch by 6 p.m. with forecasters calling for more rain throughout the night. A total of .87 inches of rain had fallen this week before yesterday's storms.

Even without yesterday's storms, rainfall this month was above average.

The total is now more than 3.3 inches; normal is about 1.6 inches.

It's been that kind of year.

The area has had 22.18 inches of rain so far this year, compared with the normal of 20.26 inches.

"I'm sick and tired of shopping," said a woman as she listlessly combed the racks in the Shops At National Place in downtown Washington yesterday. "Ordinarily, the rain is all right, it gives me an excuse to shop, but this is too much. There's nothing else to do."

Jason Zajac sat in a director's chair on the lower level of the Shops at National Place reading a Lawrence Sanders novel. Well, really, he was selling watches from a cart, but there were few customers.

"Today's pretty slow," said Zajac, a Stanford University student who is in Washington for a summer internship at the Commerce Department. "Last weekend was better, but it's still early. Maybe it'll get better," he added, returning to his book.

In the television department at Hecht's on 12th and G streets NW, Kenneth Robinson and four friends were having a good time. "We came down to play Nintendo," said Kenneth, 11, as he waited his turn. "My Nintendo at home is broken."

Has all the rain cramped his style? No, not really, said Kenneth, a big fan of electronic games.

"Sometimes I go to the Golden Dome arcade, sometimes here; sometimes I just stay home," he said. "Me and my sister watch TV and play battery-operated games. That time when it rained real hard, I think it was Thursday, I wasn't like, 'Oh no, rain.' I'm used to rain, thunder and lightning. I was born and raised in Washington."

For Mike Abston, a magician with Magic Masters in the Shops, the show -- demonstrating to an audience of 16 people how to terrorize flight attendants and others with Rocky Raccoon, a fur covered slinky -- had to go on.

After all, magic is magic, rain or shine.

Staff writer Howard Schneider contributed to this report.