The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Severe storm downs trees, spews hail, knocks out power

Thunderstorms struck across the Washington region, including in hard-hit Fairfax, Prince William and Charles counties

A storm cloud hangs over the U.S. Capitol on May 16. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
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Fierce and furious thunderstorms, suggestive of the turbulence of summer, slashed across a swath of the Washington region Monday, toppling trees, tearing down power lines and sending hailstones clattering onto roofs, streets and backyard decks.

At their peak, the number of power outages amounted to more than 40,000, lining the path of the storm, from Fauquier, Prince William and Fairfax counties in Virginia, eastward across the Potomac River and into Southern Maryland.

By Tuesday morning, Pepco said about 500 customers were without power, mostly in Northwest Washington. In Northern Virginia, about 1,100 customers were still without power early Tuesday. Most of them were in the Fairfax area and Prince William County.

Southeastern Fairfax County along the Potomac River in Virginia, and northern Charles and Calvert counties in Maryland, were hit particularly hard before the storm crossed the Chesapeake Bay to Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Reports of hailstones seemed to follow a similar track, evoking astonishment at their size and their number from many witnesses. People looked at them in wonder, listened to the clatter they made and took pictures of them as they fell. One witness described at least one of the glittering agglomerations of ice as measuring three inches across.

Only a few miles to the north of the storm’s track, residents saw what mainly were only hints of the meteorological intensity their neighbors were experiencing.

Between 4 and 5 p.m. the wind gusted up to 45 mph at Reagan National Airport, which was near the storm’s northern edge. Heavy rain cut visibility to three-quarters of a mile and amounted to about one-fifth of an inch.

Warnings about the possibility of the storm prompted transit systems and school systems to take precautions. Schools in Howard County, Md., closed three hours early. Anne Arundel County Public Schools canceled after-school activities.

In some places, trees reportedly fell onto houses; in other spots, they fell onto streets and rain-slicked roads, at times blocking or slowing traffic.

Several large trees were uprooted in the Lake Ridge area of Prince William near Springwoods Drive and Old Bridge Road. Trees fell on the George Washington Memorial Parkway south of Alexandria.

Police in Prince William County warned motorists that traffic lights could be out at some intersections.

For all its power and ferocity, the storm swept out of the area early enough for skies over Washington to clear and sunshine to flood the city, and for an atmospheric serenity to govern the evening.

Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.