- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

Severe thunderstorms, heavy hail and the threat of more tornadoes yesterday caused early school closings, power outages, fallen trees and traffic snarls.

Most of the afternoon's severe weather passed quickly through the metropolitan area just before rush hour, but nervous residents awaited more storms expected after dark. Earlier in the day, heavy rains had caused problems during the morning commute.

"It was a very unfortunate day all around," said Fran Ward, of the Maryland State Highway Administration.

The afternoon storms knocked out power for more than 65,000 people, the majority of whom were in central and southeast Virginia; 1,810 persons were without power in Montgomery and Prince George's County and the District, according to Potomac Electric Power Co.

In Southwest Virginia, some counties received several inches of rain, causing flash floods.

There were several reports of tornadoes in central Virginia, but the National Weather Service did not confirm any touchdowns.

"It's pretty much a disaster area," said Capt. Wesley Reed of the Prince Edward County Sheriff's Department. "We have a lot of power outages, a lot of trees down."

Winds as high as 67 mph were reported in Blacksburg, Va., knocking down numerous trees, and in Northern Virginia, the Virginia Railway Express commuter train experienced delays on the Manassas Line after two large trees fell onto the tracks.

The afternoon's storms were the result of a cold front out of the Ohio Valley, which collided with warm and humid air that had moved into the area earlier in the day.

Golf-ball-size hail was reported in Gaithersburg, Clarksville, and Baltimore in Maryland and Ashburn and Tysons Corner in Virginia by the National Weather Service, and a tornado watch, issued around 2 p.m. for all of Maryland, Virginia and the District remained in effect until 9 p.m.

There were two reported cases of property damage in Gaithersburg. One was caused by a tree that fell onto a day care center in the 8700 block of Oakmont Street. The other was caused by a tree that hit a house at 215 Hutton St. Police said there were no injuries.

As forecasts worsened in the hours leading up to the storms, Prince George's County announced that all schools would close early. After-school and outdoor activities were later canceled in Charles, Anne Arundel and Calvert counties in Maryland, and in Fairfax County.

But by 5 p.m., weather forecasters began to say that the worst had passed.

Heavy rains in the morning, with precipitation of an inch or more recorded in some areas, caused numerous problems.

Commuters battled low visibility, standing water and heavy traffic from a large number of accidents.

Commuters coming from Baltimore found Interstate 95 southbound shut down near the end of an already-delayed rush hour owing to three separate accidents, one involving a jack-knifed tractor-trailer, and those southbound on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway also encountered heavy traffic owing to a fallen tree in the right lane.

The Virginia Department of Transportation closed northbound Interstate 95 from Dumfries and lifted HOV restrictions for the morning on Interstates 395 and 95 after a tractor-trailer accident that spilled oil on the roadway. Virginians also had to deal with high waters on the Dulles Toll Road.

There were reports of flooding on North Market Street in downtown Frederick, Md.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport experienced morning delays because of the weather. Flights from BWI were grounded for a brief time.

The morning storms knocked out power for 4,673 residents in Maryland, Virginia and the District. Dominion Virginia Power had restored service to its 2,113 customers by 10 a.m., but 2,550 in Maryland and D.C. remained without power into the afternoon.

AAA representative Justin McNaull said that decreased visibility was the main reason for all the complications in the morning.

"Heavy rain doesn't just make the roads wet, it obstructs your view," he said. "The rain we saw today produced almost white-out conditions."

Temperatures climbed up to 80 degrees during the day, and humidity reached 100 percent, according to Steve Zubrick of the National Weather Service.

After the morning storms were over, "We cleared out and jumped into a very summery air mass, and the combination of the radiant heat of the sun and the moisture in the air prompted very nasty thunderstorms," WJLA-TV (Channel 7) chief meteorologist Doug Hill said.

In anticipation of the afternoon rains, a flood watch was issued early in the day for much of Maryland, Virginia and the District, and remained in effect until 8 p.m.

When the afternoon storms came, a tornado watch was issued covering as far south as North Carolina and as far north as New Jersey. One tornado was sighted near Delta, Pa., in York County at 5:22 p.m., and in Rising Sun, Md., a small town less than 10 miles south of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, several residents reported seeing a tornado briefly touch down just before 6 p.m.

"I was standing outside with my wife and kids when the clouds were low and swelling," said Allen Ducote of Rising Sun. "The tornado touched down within 5 miles of us and lasted about 30 seconds before it disappeared."

Frank Muller, director of Cecil County emergency services, said there were "high-velocity winds" in the region that damaged homes and power lines, but could not confirm a tornado. The National Weather Service said its radar detected a twister in the area.

Mr. Muller said there were no reports of injuries.

On Sunday, hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by a powerful tornado that ripped through Charles and Calvert counties in Southern Maryland. Three persons were killed and about 100 others were injured by the storm, which also caused damage in Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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