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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 06/ 5/2008

Recap: June 4 Severe Weather Outbreak

By Ian Livingston

A historic severe weather outbreak for the area

One of several large limbs that fell in Dupont Circle during "Round One" of severe weather.

Once the numbers are finalized, June 4, 2008 may go down in the books as one of the more active severe weather days the D.C. region has seen in recent history. Following a widespread and destructive squall line in the mid-afternoon, several more rounds of severe weather afflicted the region, with storminess lasting well into the night. The National Weather Service in Sterling issued an astounding 70 severe thunderstorm, marine, and tornado warnings in the Baltimore/Washington region.

Continue reading for details on yesterday's storminess, as well as some photos from inside D.C. during and after the various waves of wicked weather. See Josh's full forecast to find out about today's storm potential and the coming heat wave and don't miss NatCast if you're headed to either of today's games.

Storm reports from June 4, 2008. Blue represents wind damage, red tornadoes, and green large hail. Courtesy NOAA's Storm Prediction Center.

As of publication time, the National Weather Service had documented about 70 wind damage reports, 15 hail reports and four tornado reports in or near the area, thanks to the multiple severe thunderstorms that moved through during the afternoon and evening. As you can see from the color density in the graphic (blue represents wind damage, red tornadoes, and green large hail), many places were affected in some form.

Yesterday's storms were caused by several ripples of enhanced energy moving along a near-stationary frontal boundary draped north of the region. On the south side of the front, temperatures rose into the mid to upper 80s across the area, with sticky dew points nearing 70 degrees under abundant sunshine that followed very early morning rain. This moist, unstable airmass at the surface set the stage for the severe storms.

Satellite image around 1:30 p.m. as storms develop in West Virginia. Mostly sunny skies in the metro area were fueling an increasingly unstable atmosphere. Image courtesy NASA.

Thunderstorms that originated in the upper Midwest and Ohio Valley began to re-develop in West Virginia by late morning. This thunderstorm activity was embedded in strong upper level winds from the west. As the storms interacted with the very juicy air at the surface, strong updrafts and downdrafts (vertical motions of air) developed which generated intense wind gusts. While winds aloft were primarily from the west, at the surface, winds were from the south. This low level wind shear, or changing wind direction (and/or speed) with height, helped produce conditions conducive for isolated -- but in this area significant -- tornadic potential.

By 1:30 p.m, the region was under the first Tornado Watch issued, and a line of intense storms was screaming toward the metro area as a bow echo. A bow echo is simply a line of thunderstorms that resembles the shape of a bow and typically produces very strong straight line winds and occasionally isolated tornadoes. The radar image from 3:24 p.m. (below) shows a classic bow echo moving through the heart of the metro area.

Every county along this line (or bow) of storms in our area received a thunderstorm warning or tornado warning. Storms continued to race east at 50 to 60 mph and began to affect the immediate area by 2:30 to 3:00 p.m. Presently there are 2 unconfirmed reports of tornado touchdowns that occurred as this line moved through.

Bow echo passes Washington at 3:24 p.m. Courtesy Weather Underground.

As Round One passed, damage reports began to pile up. Wind gusts in excess of 60 to 70 mph were fairly common. Damages ranged from roofing to siding and large limbs blowing off trees to whole trees toppling and causing secondary disruptions. At least one fatality was caused by the storms when a falling tree struck a moving car. In addition, several hundred thousand residents lost power, including many in the city.

Tree that fell on cars during "Round One" of severe weather in Dupont Circle. Reported to Capital Weather Gang by poster "rallycap".

Thoughts turned to cleanup by late in the afternoon, but more storms continued to fire. Places that received thunderstorm warnings earlier were once again being placed under warnings by 6:00 p.m. Round Two had arrived.

At the same time, supercell thunderstorms, severe storms with rotation, were spinning off to the east in Culpeper, Madison, and Orange counties. Large hail as big as 1.75" in diameter was reported with these storms.

Though progressively weaker for D.C. and points north, Round Three developed shortly after Round Two departed and Round Four produced another, but thankfully less-mighty bowing line of storms arriving near sunset.

"Round 4" of severe weather as seen from Farragut North, looking north. By Capital Weather Gang visitor Scott Hammack.

But to the south, Rounds Three and Four were the worst. Tornadoes were being reported by storm spotters near Fredericksburg, Virginia just before 8 p.m. That tornadic storm would eventually continue on through Charles County (see below) with more spotter reported touchdowns.

Radar image of storms in Charles County. Green triangle represents doppler radar indicated tornado. The city to the northeast of the triangle is La Plata, Md. Image courtesy Charlie Wilson.

By 9 to 10 p.m., the majority of severe weather was finally exiting the region with just a little rain and lightning left behind. Rainfall totals ranged from 1 to 2" where storms occurred.

As The Weather Channel's severe weather specialist Dr. Greg Forbes documented in an excellent blog post, 2008 has been a remarkable year for severe weather in the U.S. Our region has not been spared. While there may be more severe weather locally as we go through the summer, perhaps the only bit of good news is that June 4 was such a rare event that it's unlikely to be repeated soon.

Lightning fills the sky over Glover Park, D.C., as storminess finally begins to wind down around 9:30 p.m.

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs by author. Chief Meteorologist Jason Samenow contributed to this post.

By Ian Livingston  | June 5, 2008; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  High Winds, Photography, Recaps, Thunderstorms  
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Post your storm stories/reactions here...

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | June 5, 2008 10:17 AM | Report abuse

With the first line arond 3:30 we had some large branches far above the ground snapped off and some medium sized trees bent over. Neighbor had a tree struck by lightning and it stripped the bark in a spiral pattern. I will probably post pictures on EUSWX later.

Most intense wind I have seen in a very long time. Wow! Currently in the emergency mangement conference call.

Posted by: Kenny L. | June 5, 2008 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Would the first (or any for that matter) bow echo be termed a Derecho?

I experienced a similar event on May 30-31, 1998 ("The Southern Great Lakes Derecho of 1998") while in Mid-Michigan. The events and aftermath remind me a lot of that event.

Posted by: Scott | June 5, 2008 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Storm story? Sideways rain seen from the seventh floor as visibility dropped to less than 300 (150?) feet.

Posted by: Storm-petrel | June 5, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse

What a wild ride. The interesting thing was that my lights flickered a couple of times about ten minutes before the first storm actually hit, when it was dead calm, then went out completely. Could it have been some kind of electrical overload in the atmosphere that caused it? This morning I ran to the hardware store early for batteries (they were already nearly out, and had no power themselves.)Now I have the generator running and extension cords feeding the internet and my laptop. Who knows when my neighbourhood in Mt Vernon will get power again!

Posted by: Etta | June 5, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

You could make a case that this was a progressive derecho. Will be interesting to see if NWS gives this event that definition.

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | June 5, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Good question, Scott. I think by the time the storms arrived here with the first batch it had some trademarks of a derecho. It was a fairly long lived event producing some damage well west as well, not sure if it fits the defined classification though.. perhaps someone else knows the answer.

Posted by: Ian, Capital Weather Gang | June 5, 2008 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Lessons learned from storm destruction.
1. Metro dropped the ball on bussing commuters between stations to get around downed train lines, commuters stuck for upwards of 90 minutes and more.
2. Local drivers have no concept of a 4-way stop and how to get through traffic lights that are out.
3. The emergency response system sucks, if it even exists. Not enough police, fire, emergency crews alerted/activated and on scene in a timely manner.
4. School system alert system was fantastic (Loudoun)
5. Toll road booths still work when all other power is out, all about making money babe!

Posted by: DC Commuter | June 5, 2008 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I think the recent heavy rains certainly exacerbated the problems on the ground, since trees fall over easier when the ground is saturated.

Posted by: wiredog | June 5, 2008 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Do you guys have a Flickr group page?

Posted by: bdevil02 | June 5, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Try being a pedestrian at an intersection when the lights go out. Especially when the first storm hit and you couldn't see beyond the end of your nose. I was at Wayne Ave in Silver Spring right when the lights went out. I prayed the whole way across.

Posted by: ep | June 5, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

"2. Local drivers have no concept of a 4-way stop and how to get through traffic lights that are out."

That is so true. I witnessed an almost-accident this morning when a vehicle went barreling through an intersection (above the speed limit) with dark traffic lights, as a car was beginning to pull in to traffic. Such behavior infuriates me.

Posted by: Storm-petrel | June 5, 2008 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Any links to rainfall totals? I don't see them here.

Posted by: Andy | June 5, 2008 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Nevermind, I see 1-2", but it sure seemed like we got more in FFX County.

Posted by: Andy | June 5, 2008 12:06 PM | Report abuse

bdevil02: We don't have a Flickr group but you can submit photos to the Washington Post visitor gallery. We may get our own Capital Weather Gang gallery at some point in the future. If you've got something really good you want share, email us.

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | June 5, 2008 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of pictures and flickr, here's an awesome shot from Mt Pleasant last evening.

Posted by: Ian, Capital Weather Gang | June 5, 2008 12:10 PM | Report abuse

I was driving to Dulles at about 7:30 (round 3?), and while I've probably seen heavier rain, I don't think I've ever seen it go from no rain to ridiculous downpour so quickly. I was completely blinded in the second it took me to turn on my wipers. The cloud patterns and textures were amazing as well.

I agree about people ignoring the 4-way stop at intersections. Obviously the police have better things to do after a storm like this than monitor every intersection, but the number of cars who put other people at risk by not stopping is way too high. --God, I sound like a cranky old man -- Maybe CapWxG can do a PSA or something.

Speaking of which, are traffic lights connected to the main power grid? Are they able to run (at least blink) on stored solar or chemical batteries for at least some time? Are LED type lights low enough power, but bright enough to make that possible? It would seem that there would be a whole lot less hassle/accidents/injuries if there were some kind of backup for traffic lights.

Posted by: doug | June 5, 2008 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Driving down the Greenway last evening there were several beautiful clouds lined up in the same patter almost like a wave shape. In all my years in Virginia I have never seen these shape or type of clouds. I was very dissapointed I did not have my camera as I would have loved to have posted pictures.

Posted by: Greg | June 5, 2008 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Stayed downtown, headed home as Round 2 came through; was drenched, even with an umbrella, on the 4-block walk to the metro. Route 50 was exceptionally backed up at 7; took 40 minutes or so to go 5 miles (including alternate route). Route 7 was closed east of Glen Carlyn. No power when we got home, and still none as of this morning. Dominion's outage reporting line said they expected our address up by 10pm tonight, but we still may have to throw a bunch of food out.

Posted by: E | June 5, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

"Lessons learned from storm destruction.
1. Metro dropped the ball on bussing commuters between stations to get around downed train lines, commuters stuck for upwards of 90 minutes and more."

Even worse than Metro is the MARC Brunswick line. Took me 5 hours to get home last night. Every passenger was given different information as to where and when to pick up the shuttle buses. Most of the information was inaccurate.

Posted by: R | June 5, 2008 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Went to another of our offices and in the five minutes it took to walk back, it went from no rain to downpour, as stated above. Got SOAKED because I thought I wouldn't get that wet in the last leg back to my office. (My mistake!) Power was out when I came home, so we had fun with candles. Power came back on about 11pm.

Posted by: maki | June 5, 2008 1:13 PM | Report abuse

On the subject of four-way stops, there seems to be some widespread misunderstanding that the only requirement is to stop before proceeding into the intersection. I've now obsevered this in the District, inner VA suburbs, and well outside the Beltway as well.

We desparately need PSAs on this and other safe driving rules!

I was almost hit last night by someone prematurely entering the intersection after they stopped, nevermind that I arrived there before him but (as is required) I had waited for prior arrival to safety navigate the intersection.

Posted by: JT | June 5, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

wow that look realy bad I hope they are going to "survive" ahhaha!!
my sister is leaving tuesday night to go to america in baltimore... I live in france and I m half americain and half french.

soon comming to america margaret bruno and her family !!
an 11 year old girl

Posted by: margaret | June 5, 2008 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Someone I was speaking with suggested that traffic lights be outfitted with solar panels to provide backup power in a storm. Does anyone know if that is feasible?

Posted by: dcm | June 5, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

At least most of you were in cars or in your homes. Two of us were on our bikes in Frederick County when the storms ripped through. We huddled under some foliage as a flash-flood streamed beside us, thunder banged above us and the winds howled around us. After 20 minutes we got back on the bikes and had to peddle 15 miles back to our cars through downed branches, leaves and slippery pavement . . . all while soaked to the bone and semi-blind from continued raindrops. OK, so I never said we were smart.

Posted by: skibrent | June 5, 2008 1:51 PM | Report abuse

If you want to submit a photo to us that's already on flick, you can tag it as "CapitalWeatherGang", we routinely browse and review that tag.

Posted by: Jamie Jones, CapitalWeather Gang | June 5, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

There's actually some pretty good videos of these storms over at the Extreme Weather Net:

Posted by: MArcus | June 5, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Etta: Chances are lines went down somplace else in the region even though it was calm where you were, and the outage "cascaded" through the system to your part of the grid. The power grid in NOVA is increasingly fragile (thanks to the "long-time" residents of Faquier and Loudon counties blocking necessary new transmission lines), so I think we will see this more frequently.

Doug: I think traffic lights can be run with solar-powered batteries, but it can be expensive. I've seen them in the southwest, where the investment makes more sense because you are unlikely to NOT have enough sun to keep the lights constantly powered.

Posted by: Southside FFX | June 5, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: WALTER PHILLIPS | June 5, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

In Herndon, fifth floor of a building across from the clock tower shopping center, I walked into my office and sat down and it was clear out the window. Five minutes later, my desk started jumping around as the building shook and rumbled. I went and looked out the window, visibility was (suddenly) virtually nil, but when it started to clear a little trees were parallel to the ground, looked like a hurricane outside! Scarier than when I was in a building and a tornado travelled overhead.

Posted by: Greg | June 5, 2008 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Happens in Oklahoma every spring.

Posted by: Mike | June 5, 2008 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Not like this. I've lived everywhere. Florida, midwest, all over continetnal US. I've been through small hurricanes that didn't have this kind of power.

Posted by: NotReally | June 5, 2008 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Just saw a massive tree down on Wisconsin AVE near the Russian Embassy.. still surprised how much damage I've seen just on foot in a small area of D.C.

Posted by: Ian, Capital Weather Gang | June 5, 2008 5:50 PM | Report abuse

A hell of a storm the likes I haven't seen since I lived in the midwest some 20 years ago. I saw the storms on the radar at work in Bethesda and thought I'd have time to get home (near Harpers Ferry, WV). I left at 145PM and there was still a bit of sun in town. As I drove up 270 it got progressively grayer and overcast, but there was no darkening of the skies. Little did I know but the storm was lurking behind the mountains to the west. Even when I was on Hwy 340 near the Burkittsville exit I did not see anything that looked threatening. As I crossed the Poromac I looked to the west at the town of Harpers Ferry and saw a wall of white 1 mile away with lightning flickering through it. Going from Virginia on to WV big raindrops fell and then WHAM! The heavy rain and wind hit as I crossed the Shenandoah River bridge. The rain was moving sideways over the bridge and I was reminded of hurricane footage. I estimate the winds were about 60kts. I had to stop several times the last few miles home as the visibility dropped to nearly zero, especially on hill peaks. Leaves and twigs were flying everywhere! The rain was mostly over in the space of 10 minutes.

Posted by: Randall J | June 5, 2008 7:35 PM | Report abuse

So what *were* the top wind speeds? I've seen references to "sustained winds over 70" in some places, but can't find maximum sustained/gusts figures anywhere...

Posted by: Greg | June 6, 2008 11:48 AM | Report abuse

National Weather Service storm reports document many reports of wind gusts from 50-75 mph

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | June 6, 2008 11:57 AM | Report abuse

The preliminary statement (that link will change unfortunately) from last night notes estimated wind gusts as high as 100 mph in the LWX forecast area. It's often difficult to get the strongest winds to hit a reporting station -- even in hurricanes there are rarely "official" obs of winds as high as measured by hurricane hunter planes, often because official stations are not terribly close to one another.

Posted by: Ian, Capital Weather Gang | June 6, 2008 3:47 PM | Report abuse

At my location in Glencarlyn, Arlington we had many large trees blown down at the roots, but what really impresses me is 2 huge white oaks that were snapped off near the base of their trunks. One was featured in a photo in the 6/5/08 Post, was about 5 feet in diameter, and fell on a Victorian. (It was spectacular to watch the removal of the main trunk by two large cranes operating in tandem the next night.) That oak did have some inner rot and so was not perfectly sound. The second was about 4.5 feet in diameter and appeared completely sound. It was snapped off and splintered. Photos at:

first 3 albums. I would guesstimate that we had 85+ MPH straight line gusts out of the SW to W. But my home station maxed at 41MPH WNW at 3:09 PM.

Posted by: Steve | June 7, 2008 9:00 PM | Report abuse

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