It was raining gently when I went to Montgomery Ward to check out a fireplace screen. That was about 11 a.m. Everybody knew that Hurricane David was coming up the coast from the Carolinas; that it was nasty and that it might dump as much as six inches of rain on the D.C. area before morning. Not much to look forward to, but with only a gentle rain falling, not much to be apprehensive about either.
By 2 o'clock the rain had increased and seemed to come in waves. One minute it would be almost clear; five minutes later a downpour. I checked the rain gauge and it said less than an inch. Still nothing to be concerned about.
Rush hour, according to the tube, was worse than usual. A little flooding in the low places. Poor visibility and a firey wreck on the 14th Street Bridge. Forecasts of possible flash floods, heavy rain and some wind. Nothing to be too worried about, although everyone knew it would be severe. We were following things carefully on TV.
Then the power went off at 6:25. It was not yet dark, but I got out the Coleman mantle lantern, cleaned it a bit and cranked it up. The ghostly light reminded us of our camping days. We were the only ones in the neighborhood to have more than a few candles.
Meanwhile, the rain increased substantially. The rain gauge now read about two inches, and I got soaked checking it. The wind had also increased but seemed nothing to get excited about. A few small branches had fallen but it was mostly "deadfall"; good firewood kindling.
A little after 7 I went to the front door and looked out. The wind had obviously picked up; the trees were really swaying. The rain seemed to be coming down horizontally in sheets.
Then I heard it. A deep-throated roar from somewhere in a south-easterly direction and quite far off. I knew immediately what it was, having heard it before when we lived in South Dakota and having read what a tornado sounds like, "a deep roar, like a freight train in the distance." No question in my mind -- tornado.
I rushed back into the house and began opening windows on both floors. I didn't want to overly disturb my wife, but found out later that she wondered why I was scurrying about opening windows. Tornadoes create a terrific vacuum and frequently suck all the windows out of a house -- whether or not they destroy the structure. It seemed like an eternity but couldn't have taken more than a few minutes at most. Rain poured in a couple of open windows; I could not have cared less.
Going back to the front door I looked and listened again. The roar was unmistakably louder -- still from a south-easterly direction. The wind was picking up, from maybe 35 miles per hour to perhaps double that. I now think the wind must have hit 90 to 100 miles per hour. The trees were swaying more than I had ever seen -- giant oaks swaying 40 to 50 feet horizontally at their crests. For the first time I was scared.
The roar continued to intensify. Wind and rain got stronger. Leaving the front door open, I came inside and told Arlene to get into the laundry room under the workbench. She went immediately, but I decided to take one more fast look out the front door.
Rain was still cascading -- mostly horizontally. Winds were still at their peak, but I distinctly heard the ominous roar, moving to the northwest and slowly growing dimmer. It touched down out in Fairfax, near Tyson's Corner and in Great Falls with at least one death and many houses destroyed.
Apparently the tornado did not touch down in our immediate area, but the peripheral winds wrought their havoc. By 9 o'clock the winds had receded but the rain continued.
Later the little transistor radio kept warning about the possibility of five more inches of rain. My wife went to bed, and I lay down fitfully with the radio. By 2 a.m., everything outside seemed quiet except for a gentle rain. Guess I dropped off about 3. Everyone in the neighborhood was up by 7 to survey the damage. All we got were downed branches in front and a few small trees out in back destroyed.
The neighbor on the corner lost two large pine trees and two oaks, which almost took out his carport. Down the block another neighbor lost most of his roof when a large tree crashed through it. The crown of a large oak crashed into a tree on the corner; took it down and with it all the power and telephone lines in the area.
Power came back on about 11 o'clock, and we all started to clean up with chain saws, handsaws and rakes.
The rain gauge registered 5.8 inches in the morning.