The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Thunderstorms in the D.C. area knock out power, flood roads

Dozens of travelers stranded overnight at Reagan National

Rainbows in the Van Ness area of Washington on May 22. (Diane Krauthamer/Flickr)

Skies turned black in the Washington region Sunday afternoon and after three hot days unleashed powerful storms that flooded roads and streets, knocked out power to thousands and left dozens of passengers stranded overnight at an airport.

Winds rose, and hail rained down in much of the area starting in the late afternoon after a second day of 90-degree heat. Rain amounted to almost an inch and a half in less than two hours, and waters rose swiftly near creeks and streams and on low-lying roads and streets.

On Sunday night, dozens of passengers were stranded overnight at Reagan National Airport as the storms swept through the region.

One traveler — Max McCarty — told NBC4 that he boarded a plane Sunday at 11:30 p.m. and was “just sitting there until 2 a.m.” because of the storms. He eventually got a text that the flight was canceled and would not leave until early Monday.

Another passenger at National, Sumathi Madhure, told the TV station she was frustrated that she was stranded, too, as she was trying to get back to Manchester, N.H.

“Why do I have to wait two days to get back?” she said. She said she was going to have to take a train and then a bus home after her flight was canceled.

“I’m very disappointed,” Madhure said.

Another passenger shared on Twitter that his 6 p.m. flight from Cleveland to D.C. had turned into “several hours” of waiting aboard a plane.

American Airlines said in a statement to WUSA9 that the strong storms in the D.C. region caused delays. The airline said a “small number of arriving flights” had to wait for gate space at the terminal, and that caused a backup.

NBC4 said American Airlines warned travelers there could be “a handful of cancellations” Monday morning and that it expected to be back to normal operations by midday. The airline said in a statement, “We apologize for the inconvenience and thank our team members who are working diligently to get our customers on their way.”

The storms also caused troubles on area roadways.

In one incident, a motorist was trapped in a vehicle amid rising water on Brighton Dam Road in the Brookeville area of Montgomery County, according to the county fire and rescue service.

Rescuers freed the motorist from the vehicle stalled between Georgia and New Hampshire avenues as water began to rush into the passenger compartment, said Pete Piringer, spokesman for the fire department.

Waters rose in Virginia, too, with Difficult Run reaching minor flood stage in the Wolf Trap area of Fairfax County, according to a report to the National Weather Service.

Trees toppled in many spots under winds that gusted into the 40 mph range and above, as waves of storms, with lightning and thunder, rolled eastward across Prince William, Fairfax and Arlington counties in Virginia and into Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, as well as into the District.

Late Sunday evening, as many as 20,000 homes and businesses lost electricity in Northern Virginia alone, with damage spread over a wide area of Arlington and Fairfax counties. Early Monday, about 9,400 customers of Dominion Virginia Power were without power. Most of them were in the Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax areas. Two Alexandria City schools — the King Street campus of Alexandria City High School and Charles Barrett Elementary School — were without power Monday and moved to virtual learning. In Maryland and the District, roughly 130 customers of Pepco were without power early Monday.

At least some of the energy that powered the storms came from the heat of recent days. At Dulles International Airport, the temperature reached the 90s for the second consecutive day.

After tying a record there Saturday, the heat set a record at Dulles on Sunday. The thermometer did not go far into the 90s, halting at 91, according to the National Weather Service, but that eclipsed the record set last year for May 22 of 89 degrees.

The heat and humidity contributed to the formation of clouds that seemed spectacularly menacing as they began to form in western skies in the late afternoon, and an inch of rain fell at National between 6 and 7 p.m.