Soaking rain, sinkholes, fallen trees and flooded highways have socked the region since Saturday as part of a weather pattern not seen in Washington for 12 years.
It has left at least two people dead — a woman who died after a tree fell on her Virginia home and a firefighter battling a blaze at a Maryland home struck by lightning. Added to that, a pre-sunrise tornado Tuesday sent some Fairfax County residents scrambling.
Jason Samenow, The Washington Post’s weather editor and chief meteorologist, said the last time the region saw a similar “stuck weather pattern” involving heavy rain was 2006. In the current weather setup, he said, a front is stalled over the area with a “conveyor belt of tropical moisture” that originated from the Bahamas, known as an “atmospheric river.”
“It’s like a water hose in the sky that’s pointed right at us,” Samenow said.
Fairfax County authorities said the saturated ground probably caused a tree to fall onto a house Monday night in the 5900 block of Burnside Landing Drive in Burke, killing a woman inside. Officials on Tuesday identified the victim as 63-year-old Beverly Krizanovic.
“It’s been hard, obviously, because it’s just so unexpected and our hearts ache for the family,” said Carol Heflin, who lives about three houses away.
Heflin, 71, said she and her husband are the original owners of their home and have lived there nearly 40 years. While trees are prominent in the neighborhood, they’ve also presented challenges — including an instance in which a large branch fell near Heflin’s driveway, narrowly missing her car.
“If it had hit someone it would have killed them,” said Heflin, gesturing toward the stump where the tree once stood. “We were lucky that nobody was out and the car wasn’t hurt. It was scary.”
After Monday’s incident, she said, she plans to remove four trees from her backyard.
“We just had last month $3,000 worth of dead branches taken down,” she said. “We’re going to bite the bullet — it’s going to be very expensive, but worth it.”
Down the street, Don and Marilyn Harris moved into their home in 1980. They said the death has elevated concerns about mature trees in the community.
“We have big trees behind us, too. We’re always scared,” said Don Harris, 74.
Added Marilyn Harris, 73, “We’re thinking of sleeping in our basement tonight and tomorrow night until the worst of it is over.”
The Harrises, also the original owners of their house, said the community was designed to “enhance the neighborhood with nature,” including a spate of trees planted around the time they moved in. Don Harris said the homeowners association is diligent about reminding residents to tend to trees that might be dangerous, adding that problematic trees are routinely cut down.
While fallen trees and branches sometimes cause damage, he’s not aware of residents being injured before.
“Something like this is so rare, we’ve never seen this,” he said.
Chris Spigt, an arborist with Northern Virginia Tree Experts, said he was called to a home two doors from where the tree fell Monday. Spigt said that the family requested a routine inspection of trees on their property and that he planned to examine their roots and soil and look for signs of decay.
“If there’s targets such as a house, cars or playgrounds, you want to have that addressed so it doesn’t fall and do what it did over there,” Spigt said.
Earlier this week, officials said two Maryland homes — one in Montgomery County and another in Howard County — were struck by lightning as storms rolled through. In Howard, a 13-year-veteran firefighter died after he fell through the floor of a large home engulfed in flames in Clarksville, about 20 miles northeast of Washington.
In the Montgomery County incident, a firefighter suffered injuries that were not considered life threatening while battling a house fire in Olney.
On Tuesday, commuters faced rush-hour downpours, high water over major roads and downed trees that brought traffic to a standstill. Dozens of roads were closed, including part of busy Arlington Boulevard west of the Beltway for nearly an hour during the morning rush. Fairfax County fire and rescue personnel conducted three water rescues during a span of 30 minutes.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning Tuesday in effect for 21 minutes for an area that included Lake Barcroft and Lincolnia. Forecasters evaluated damage at Thomas Jefferson High School and nearby areas and confirmed a small tornado was on the ground for a quarter-mile for a minute, between 5:54 and 5:55 a.m., with peak winds of 70 mph. Its maximum width was 100 yards.
“The tornado touched down briefly just south of the softball field, damaging fences, two sheds, light poles and several trees,” the Weather Service’s report said. “A shipping container was lofted over 100 yards as the tornado crossed the softball field moving northeast over an adjacent athletic field. The tornado then lifted over the northeastern part of the school property.”
No one was injured.
Earlier this week, motorists dodged a sinkhole in Germantown. Last week in Arlington, 40 people were removed from 25 stranded vehicles after a torrent of rain flooded the George Washington Parkway, closing the highway for more than hour during the evening rush.
Residents have had various ways of coping with the inundation.
Rich Johnson of Northeast Washington sat outside the Metro Center station Tuesday, taking a break from his construction job at Freedom Plaza, and waxed philosophical on the weather.
“Without the rain, where would we be?” he said. “We’re alive, we are here today, we are outside, and it’s not too hot.”
For others, the excessive rainfall has created hardships.
John Long, an executive assistant from Northeast Washington, walked swiftly along G Street NW on Tuesday with a long umbrella. His dining room had sprung a leak after storms hit the area Saturday, and he was waiting for a quote from contractors for work that he hoped insurance would cover.
“I came downstairs to a whole puddle on my floor,” Long said.
July has been a month of extremes in Washington. A month that started off dry is likely to become the wettest July on record in Washington, according to The Post’s Capital Weather Gang.
With so much heavy rain in a brief period, the ground is saturated and some streams and rivers are swollen, unable to handle more water. Maryland Natural Resources Police cautioned that the Potomac River shouldn’t be used for recreation for several days, because of dangerous high water and debris.
The Baltimore region and parts of Anne Arundel County bore the brunt of the region’s rain Tuesday, with high water closing areas near the Annapolis City Dock. By early afternoon Tuesday, Baltimore had recorded 2.3 inches of rain, pushing the city to 13.26 inches for the month — the city’s wettest July on record.
The D.C. region last saw a similar weather pattern 12 years ago. During that system, a mudslide led to closures on the Beltway, several downtown roads flooded and a 100-year-old American elm tree fell near the White House’s front door.
Areas of heavy rain are likely again Wednesday, then chances back off Thursday and Friday with temperatures edging higher. The weekend will be warm and humid — with scattered storms.