Enormous storm system delivers powerful hit but no knockout from Illinois to Maryland
WASHINGTON — An enormous storm system that started in the Upper Midwest brought soaking rains and heavy wind to the Mid-Atlantic on Thursday, causing widespread power outages, flash flooding and extensive flight delays, but still largely failing to live up to its fierce billing.
The storm came and went in the Washington area ahead of the evening rush hour, bringing wind and thunder that knocked trees onto houses, cut power to thousands of homes and traffic signals and led to the brief closure of a bridge that leads to the beaches on Maryland's Eastern shore.
Three tornadoes were reported in Maryland, though there were no immediate reports of damage.
“The wind was pretty bad. It was just a squall that came through really fast,” said Jim Estes, director of instruction at Olney Golf Park driving range, referring to a tornado reported in the Washington suburb of Olney.
A 19-year-old woman who is an intern at Plumpton Park Zoo in Rising Sun, Md., north of Baltimore, was struck by lightning while feeding animals and was taken to the hospital after a co-worker performed CPR.
Dire predictions from forecasters, including warnings throughout the region of tornadoes and thunderstorms, led to precautions in several states.
Maryland transit officials briefly closed in both directions the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a critical artery connecting the Baltimore-Washington area with Delaware and Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Customers and employees of the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport were directed to seek shelter in a bathroom or in the lowest level of the terminal.
Still, overall, the storms appear to have caused less wind damage than was feared, said Bill Bunting of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. Whether they were as bad as anticipated “depends on where you live,” he said.
He said thunderstorms took longer than expected to merge into a large line that could cause widespread damage.
The merger also happened farther east than expected, which limited the potential for widespread damage in Illinois and Indiana, though those states still had pockets of severe weather.
Even before merging, the individual storms remained powerful, Bunting said.
Besides reports of damaging winds and preliminary tornado sightings, the weather service received reports of hail at least an inch in diameter in locations stretching from southeast Minnesota to Virginia, he said.
In Ohio, storms with swift, straight-line winds soaked parts of the state, knocking down trees and barns and leaving many without power as commuters dodged fallen branches on roads and faced backups at intersections where traffic lights were out.
Straight-line winds topping 70 mph were reported, and more than two dozen tornado warnings were issued as two rounds of storms pummeled the state, but no twisters have been confirmed, said Phillip Johnson, who was part of the team monitoring developments for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.
Play was suspended at the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia less than two hours after the start of the first round and resumed about three hours later before another brief delay in the evening.