WASHINGTON – A massive storm system that started in the Upper Midwest brought soaking rains and heavy winds to the Mid-Atlantic on Thursday, causing widespread power outages, flash flooding and extensive flight delays, but largely failing to live up to its fierce billing.
The severe weather was also blamed for two deaths.
The storm came and went in the Washington, D.C., area ahead of the evening rush hour, bringing winds and lightning that knocked trees onto houses, cut power to thousands of homes and traffic signals and led to the brief closure of a bridge that connects to the beaches on Maryland’s Eastern shore.
Three tornadoes were reported in Maryland, though there were no immediate reports that they caused significant damage.
In Richmond, Va., a 4-year-old boy was fatally struck by a tree that toppled while he was visiting a park with his father. Capt. Emmett Williams of the Richmond police said the boy was crushed by an old yellow tulip poplar tree that became uprooted from rain-soaked grounds during heavy winds and rains. The father was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Lightning from a fast-moving storm may have sparked a fire that killed a western Pennsylvania man early Thursday, the state fire marshal said.
And during an initial wave of morning storms, a 19-year-old woman who works as an intern at Plumpton Park Zoo in Rising Sun, Md., northeast of Baltimore, was struck by lightning while feeding the animals. She was being treated at a hospital after a co-worker performed CPR.
Dire predictions from forecasters, including warnings throughout the region of tornadoes and thunderstorms, led to precautions throughout several states.
Maryland transit officials briefly closed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a critical artery connecting the Baltimore-Washington area with Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
As of Thursday night, there were about 30,000 outages in Maryland, the state emergency management agency said, and more than 300,000 in Virginia.
The Mid-Atlantic wasn’t the only region to get hit Thursday. Lightning lit up the sky over Atlanta Thursday evening, as a line of thunderstorms moved through north and central Georgia. Georgia Power reported that nearly 100,000 customers had lost power as of 8:30 p.m.
In North Carolina, weather forecasters and utility companies reported downed trees and more than 157,000 customers without power, mostly in the Piedmont region.
Still, overall, the storms appear to have caused less wind damage than was feared through early Thursday, said Bill Bunting of the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
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.
In Ohio, storms with swift, straight-line winds soaked parts of the state, knocking down trees and barns and leaving many without power Thursday as commuters dodged fallen branches on roads and faced backups at intersections where traffic lights were out.
Early Thursday morning, thunderstorms that punched through northern Illinois caused significant wind damage, mainly in rural areas west and south of Chicago. The city was largely spared. The weather service said intense winds estimated to have reached 70-80 mph in some areas snapped large trees at their trunks or uprooted them entirely.
In New Jersey, officials opened the state’s Emergency Operations Center on Thursday morning to monitor the storm’s progress. The weather service issued a flood watch for most of the state. Forecasters predicted 1 to 2 inches of rain will fall on swollen rivers and streams. As thunderstorms rumbled across the southern and central parts of the state, thousands of residents were left without power.