Severe thunderstorms carrying hail and gale-force winds lashed the Washington area at evening rush hour yesterday, immobilizing the Metro subway between Washington and Virginia, cutting power lines and bowling over numerous trees.
The storms carried tornadoes that touched down in Western Maryland, Loudoun County and Reston and may have brushed Southeast Washington and upper Montgomery County. The National Weather Service said it received reports of twisters touching down near Branch Avenue and 32nd Place SE in the city and in Germantown and at the Montgomery County Air Park near Gaithersburg. Local authorities were unable to confirm those reports.
Two persons were injured in tornadoes in Garrett County in Western Maryland as the storms began their swift advance eastward late in the afternoon.
Parts of the Washington area were under a tornado warning for more than two hours, and there were widespread pockets of destruction, often caused by falling trees. On the U.S. Capitol grounds, several trees were blown over and one was uprooted.
About a dozen small glass panes atop the Capitol rotunda and two windows in the Supreme Court building's interior courtyard were broken.
More than 35,000 homes in the Washington area lost electrical power during the storms, and more than a third of those still lacked power late last night. Power company spokesmen said most homes would have electricity restored by this morning.
Rush-hour subway service from Washington to Virginia was cut for more than an hour during the height of the evening rush when electrical power for train signals and switches was cut at three stations.
At the Rosslyn station, the world's second longest escalator ground to a halt when the power failed, and hundreds of commuters climbed to ground level. Metro personnel had to handcrank an elevator back to the station floor when it came to a stop halfway up to the ground level with two passengers inside.
Thousands of commuters were caught on trains or in the Blue-Orange Line stations while technicians scrambled to restore electricity at the Arlington Cemetery and Rosslyn stations in Virginia and the Foggy Bottom station in the District. It was 6:15 p.m. before Washington-to-Virginia trains could run again.
The storm also brought vehicular traffic to a standstill on many major commuter highways. Particularly hard hit were sections of the Capitol Beltway, where driving rain and high winds caused hazardous conditions, and on Rte. 7 in Fairfax County, were winds knocked out traffic lights.
Winds of 50 to 60 miles an hour were reported, and a 10-by-20-foot glass window in the Dulles Airport Terminal was blown in.
A 13-year-old boy standing near the window suffered minor cuts on both arms and was treated at Access Hospital in Reston. Two women were struck by glass splinters but did not require hospitalization, according to Hugh Gudger, Dulles operations officer.
Flights at both Dulles and National airports were delayed for up to an hour by the storms.
The storms started their sweep through the Washington area about 4:45 p.m.
The tornado that struck in Airmont in Loudoun County knocked down trees and caused some damage to houses, while the one that hit on Soapstone Road in Reston damaged trees. No injuries were reported.
Tree damage was widespread.
A few miles away from the Reston tornados, in Falls Church, a large tree that stood for 35 years in the yard of Lucy Cohen's five-bedroom house on Broadmont Terrace crashed through the roof.
"It fell right into my attic," said Cohen. "It damaged the plaster in my bedroom and water is seeping through."
A few minutes after 5 p.m. rain was coming down in sheets and hailstones the size of golf balls bounced off the pavement at 5th and G streets NW near Washington's court complex.
Washington Post staff writer Joseph D. Whitaker said hailstones cracked the windshield and smashed the left rear window of his station wagon and winds almost overturned his car at the intersection.
A hot dog stand was blown over into the street and traffic was blocked.
High winds -- a tornado by some reports -- blew down more than a dozen trees, knocked a chimney off a home and tore off roof shingles and siding in the 2200 block of 32nd Place SE near Branch Avenue.
"There was a big flash," said Louis Constintino, recalling the moment the wind blew down power lines on the block. "When we tried to close the windows, it was hell because of the rain and (wind) pressure. It was a miracle no one was hurt. My son is doing his homework by candle light."
Some power lines fell across roads and highways, including what fire officials called two "hot wire" lines at West Montgomery and New Hampshire avenues in Montgomery County, further endandering commuter traffic.
The storms moved out of the area as quickly as they had struck. By 6:30 p.m. weather officials had lifted the tornado warning that covered Washington and northern Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
The storms had come in a line stretching from the Shenandoah Valley to southern New Jersey, pushed southeastward by a dry, cool air mass from Canada.
A half inch of rain was dumped on the area in the first hour after the thunderstorms hit.
During the same hour, the temperature dropped 13-degrees, from 88 to 75.
The weather service promised a "nice, sunny, pleasant day" for today.
The storms were part of a system that lashed the Midwest over the weekend and on Monday, killing two persons and injuring at least 35 in four states. In western Pennsylvania yesterday nearly 110 persons were taken to four hospitals, most of them with minor cuts and bruises. Philadelphia police said a motorist was killed when a tree fell on his truck.