Winds gusted between 50 and 60 mph. Branches were torn from trees, and some trees toppled. Tens of thousands of people lost electricity, and airline flights were delayed from taking off.
Rain poured down in torrents in places. One professional baseball game was called off, and another was delayed. Bolts of lightning ripped through the skies, accompanied by the rumble of thunder and the rattle of hail, in a display of atmospheric drama.
But it appeared that even more dramatic than what happened Friday night was what didn’t occur. A tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service for parts of the Washington metropolitan area, but it is unlikely that many people were disappointed by the lack of confirmation of any touchdown.
The warnings came on an evening on which thousands of Washington area residents began the traditional holiday weekend trek to places of summer recreation. They also came after some of the deadliest tornados on record had struck in other parts of the United States.
Warnings are everything when it comes to tornado survival, as they provide time to find shelter in a safe place ahead of the onset of one of the most destructive forces of nature.
For a time around 7 p.m. Friday evening, a tornado warning was in effect for parts of Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford counties in Virginia.
The National Weather Service said radar “continued to indicate a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado.”
The storm appeared to be moving to the northeast at 45 mph.
“Take cover now,” the warning said. “Move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building and avoid windows. . . . ”
Shortly afterward, the grim outlook brightened, and the storm had weakened to the point where tornadoes apparently ceased to be a threat.
But the line of storms that did sweep northeastward across the Washington region did exact a toll. At some point Friday night, almost 50,000 homes and businesses in the metropolitan area lost electricity. At their peak, the number of outages reported by Dominion Virginia Power reached 38,000. The number reported by Pepco was about 10,000.
Near Oakton, a fallen oak blocked a road. D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman Pete Piringer said trees were reported down in Northwest Washington near 42nd and Fessenden streets, and a tree in the 4500 block of Fort Totten Road NE.
A wind gust estimated at 60 mph was reported to the weather service from northern Fairfax County, and another of similar strength was measured in the Gaithersburg area of upper Montgomery County.
“Huge amount of lightning here in Woodbridge,” someone told The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang site. “High winds, too.”
The storm headed north, generating additional reports.
“Lightning right above the house in Annandale,” read one.
“Half of the neighbor’s tree is down,” it said. “It’s looking rather scary outside.”
A post from a Fairfax City resident told of “wind and flickering lights” there, along with rain. Rain? “Downpour, really,” the resident said.
“Major storm here in Oakton,” said still another comment. “Power has gone out twice.”
The Washington Nationals game was delayed. The Potomac Nationals game was rescheduled. But the effects of the storm varied from one place to another.
In Centreville, the Weather Gang was told, the storm was a “bit of a fizzle.” Rain consisted of brief downpours that failed to wet the ground beneath the trees.
Neighbors had begun to grill outdoors, and were continuing.
“Curious to see how long they stick it out,” the observer said.