Gale-force winds howled through the Washington area yesterday, severing power lines, uprooting trees, and battering spring's daffodil beds in a raw reprise of winter.
Tree-toppling winds gusted from the northwest up to 60 miles an hour at Dulles International Airport and reached 58 at National Airport. Both remained open and handled more than a dozen flights diverted from New York and New Jersey.
The threat of falling trees forced officials to close the National Zoo, a precaution routinely taken for the sake of the zoo's visitors, not its residents. U.S. Park Police closed Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park and reported tie-ups of as long as half an hour on other roads blocked by fallen trees.
About 20,000 homes in the metropolitan area were without electricity, largely due to trees falling on power lines.
At Crystal City, the wind knocked several panes of glass out of skylights. In Prince George's County, winds knocked out traffic lights on Rtes. 4 and 301, forcing police to direct rush-hour traffic.
Many of the blossoms adorning the Japanese cherry trees that border the Tidal Basin were blown down, and a National Park Service spokesman said the winds probably shortened life of the remaining blossoms. He said that today may be the last good day for viewing the cherry trees.
No major injuries were reported as a result of the storm.
The complex weather system that spawned the high winds also brought mid-winter temperatures back to the area. Yesterday's low reading of 29 degrees, recorded at midnight, was three degrees above the record for April 6, set in 1898. The record low for today--29 degrees, set in 1881--had already been surpassed at 1 a.m. with a reading of 28.
For the rest of today, forecasters said they expect the winds to diminish in strength to about 10-to-15 miles an hour, with temperatures rising to about the mid-40s. Rain or snow is predicted for Wednesday night and Thursday with lows in the 20s. The forecasters also said the area should warm up by Saturday.
The blustery weather is the product of closely allied high- and low-pressure areas that moved in from the midwest early yesterday morning, bringing heavy rains, thunder and winds averaging 30 to 40 miles per hour.
"Think of an egg beater," said National Weather Service specialist Larry Wenzel. "Air is moving counterclockwise around a low pressure system over the Atlantic and clockwise around a high pressure system in the midwest. It's meeting across the whole eastern seaboard."
Washington residents who had, a few days ago, sauntered about in shirt sleeves savoring spring sights and mild air, yesterday wrapped themselves in hastily unpacked scarves and watchcaps. Flags stood straight out, and pedestrians battled headwinds.
The storm ripped out part of a wall of an apartment building at 3018 Porter St. NW. A resident there said a big piece was blown off, and "there are great bricks everywhere. Anyone who'd been around when it happened would have been killed." The wind also toppled a tree into a parked car near the building.
In one yard in suburban McLean, violent gusts plucked a 20-year-old crab apple tree out of the earth and deposited it next door.
Maryland authorities barred empty tractor trailers and certain other vehicles from crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and cranes at the Dundalk Marine Terminal were shut down because of high winds.