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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 06/ 7/2010

Did Sunday's storms have more bark than bite?

By Ian Livingston

* What's the weather doing this week? Full Forecast *

The tail end of a severe thunderstorm passes over the National Mall on Sunday. See this image larger.

Tornado watches were hoisted Sunday across most of the northeast United States, including here in the D.C. metro area. At the time, a strong and strengthening surface low-pressure system was passing from the Midwest and Ohio Valley -- where tornadoes had caused fatalities -- into New York and New England.

Tornado watches are not terribly frequent here and further up the coast, so they may get a little more notice than the average severe thunderstorm watch. But the results, outside a few reports of wind damage, did not seem to match the outlook from some forecasters.

Keep reading for a recap on the event and some photos from Virginia and the District. But first, vote in the poll below...

Regional radar from 9:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m on Sunday, June 6, 2010. Image courtesy: Weather Underground

As Sunday got underway, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) sounded the alarm for a potential severe weather outbreak across the Northeast. While the focus was on places from New York and New Jersey into Southern New England, the risk of a significant episode of severe weather was a possibility into the mid-Atlantic.

Scattered, a couple strong/severe ... Storms that develop could produce damaging winds, hail, and even isolated tornado activity. -CWG, Sunday Forecast

Storm clouds boil overhead Oakton, Va. By CWG photographer Kevin Ambrose.

Storms that quickly blasted east out of the Ohio Valley and West Virginia began to impact the area during the early afternoon. However, the cold front lagged a bit behind activity that developed out in front of it. Though temperatures were very warm (Reagan National hit 91 and other airports in the upper 80s) and there was ample moisture for storms, overall activity remained somewhat limited and only two or three cells gained much intensity.

Storm clouds travel into D.C. from Virginia on Sunday afternoon.

The first main storm (pictured above and below while passing by D.C.) moved through the western suburbs before impacting portions of the District and Maryland. At around 1:30 p.m., wind damage was reported near Purcellville in Loudoun County. As the storm continued east, it caused additional wind damage in southeast D.C. with several more unconfirmed reports in and near the city. Isolated wind gusts reached near 60 to 70 mph.

Radar 2:06 p.m through 3:01 p.m. First storm passes D.C. and intensifies, triggering a tornado warning to the east. Image courtesy: Weather Underground

On the National Mall, visitors were largely spared the brunt of the storm. Only the tail end of the rain and associated winds moved through the southern portion of the city. A fairly pronounced gust front moved by with a quick burst of winds to about 30 mph. While well below severe limits, it was enough to cause a mini dust storm on the Mall before the first drops landed to wet the soil. Additional showery activity developed behind the main line but did not produce much rain.

Looking north from the Lincoln Memorial, the leading edge of thunderstorm winds moves across the city

While the first storm traveled east, Twitter user @mindthedot sent over a photo of a lightning strike taken from Union Station. As the core of the storm passed from the Rockville, Md area to near Bowie, then toward Anapolis, it exhibited some rotation. The National Weather Service hoisted a tornado warning for Anne Arundle and Prince Georges counties. As of publication, there has been no verification of a tornado or any public reports of such.

Another intense supercell developed across southern portions of the area as the first large storm moved east. This storm prompted more severe warnings including a tornado warning for Stafford, Culpeper and Fauquier counties in Virginia. Like the previous storm that received a tornado warning, no tornadoes were reported, but some trees were downed near Stafford around 4 p.m.

Clouds blow past the Washington Monument behind the band of rain and wind.

Further to the northeast, where forecasts were more bullish for severe weather, there were also no confirmed reports of tornadoes on Sunday as of publication. The watch that covered areas from Pennsylvania to New England and the coast was issued with 90 percent probability of 2 or more tornadoes and a 50 percent chance of a strong F2+ tornado. Folks in New England, including a meteorologist in Connecticut, called it an "epic fail". Nonetheless, the majority of storm damage came from that region on Sunday.

What do you think? Was the threat on Sunday overblown or was it just a typical severe weather day around these parts where many get missed and a few get hit?

Photos by author unless noted.

By Ian Livingston  | June 7, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Photography, Recaps  
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It was one of the more exciting thunderstorms I've been underneath, even if it didn't kill any people or trees. I can't say I like it much when there's no noticeable delay between the flash and the boom.

Posted by: kevinwparker | June 7, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Loved the lightning map (although I felt for those who were in the middle of the cluster of lightning strikes.)

Posted by: readerl | June 7, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Count me as one of those people who really don't understand the hyperbolic response by the TV weather guys when this happens. A warning tone and information scroll at the top/bottom of the screen seems more than adequate. Meanwhile, Channel 9 went on and on tracking this or that at street level through Stafford County and into Maryland.

This seems to be happening with greater frequency lately...maybe the response they got to the snowstorms this year made them feel that people want to watch this. I seriously doubt that the average person is glued to their TV as the skies darken wondering what may happen and wish that they would use the commercial time provided with network programming to give a 30-60 second update. There is no reason, however, to spend 10-15 minutes showing weather radar.

Posted by: TheOneWhoHurtsMost | June 7, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

As someone noted on Sunday, the Washington Post main page left the "Tornado Warning Until 8PM" message up far too long. I'm not sure what to make of such a large tornado watch area (the whole northeast). That seemed to be a little excessive to me.

From what I understand in New England, lots of news crews took the same picture of the same tree blown over on the north shore, although I don't know what the real extent of the damage was.

Posted by: eric654 | June 7, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I don't watch TV, let alone glue myself to it. However, given the inherent difficulty of providing precise weather forecasts in this area, I think the watch is quite appropriate. If I see that there's a watch posted, I'll keep a radio on and one eye on the sky, so that I can act if needed, without disrupting all my plans.

Posted by: fsd50 | June 7, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Definitely overblown--I didn't see much more than 0.20 inch of rain--something that will have the "much-needed-rain" crowd screaming for a major washout the night of my next big Friday night dance, June 18!

There was plenty of lead-up to this by the TV mets--they had storm cells moving eastward at 75 mph north of us around Binghamton, NY and in parts of Pennsylvania yesterday morning. Add that forward momentum to the expected 35-mph wind gusts and we should have seen downbursts higher than 100 mph--that's nearly Category 3 on the Saffir/Simpson scale. In addition, rotary motion due to wind shears should have resulted in a few rather strong tornadoes.

It's possible that Appalachian topography or other factors may have disrupted storm organization. As things played out there were a few rather strong cells on radar but they seem to have have become scattered rather than remaining coherent as they passed our area.

Another interesting factor--there were primarily male meteorologists on the TV screens over the weekend. Kim Martucci was absent from Channel 4 [due perhaps to French Open Tennis "bumping" the AM news/weather both days!] and I didn't see much of Sue Palka on Fox5, either. Perhaps the ladies would have called the setup more accurately.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | June 7, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

There should be a choice that goes, "CWG (and Wapo) left the tornado warning well past the time the front had passed. Hey, it's Sunday!"

Posted by: jojo2008 | June 7, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

The guy on channel 9 (Topper?) was acting like the end of the world was upon us. Seemed a little full of himself and got defensive about the amount of coverage they were giving the storm (something about them having a duty to protect life and property and that trumped people watching golf on TV or some such nonsense).

Posted by: Axel2 | June 7, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

I think there was decent reasoning for the watches given the strength of the system passing through the northeast. However, the timing always looked a little suspect (too early for many) and I sometimes wonder if the guys in Oklahoma (SPC) understand East Coast severe weather as well as they do that in the plains etc. The local NWS was perhaps a bit too bullish, and the CWG forecast was pretty good. I think one issue may have been the overall speed of the storms throughout the northeast. Sometimes that makes it harder for them to fully develop as they otherwise could.

Posted by: Ian-CapitalWeatherGang | June 7, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I live in Stafford County, and in the general area in which the radar was broken down to yesterday afternoon. I was thankful for the extra coverage.

Posted by: 30StinkyToes | June 7, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

It happened that I was watching 'Pump Up the Volume' on Channel 50. They did briefly interrupt the sound to talk about the tornado warning, but I didn't mind. When I heard Fauquier Co, I checked radar to confirm the activity was moving east of my location.

Posted by: spgass1 | June 7, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Erring on the side of caution has its place, but the worst thing the warning system can do is desensitize people to the watches and warnings it issues. We didn't even get rain downtown on Sunday.

Posted by: fleeciewool | June 8, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Then again, to be fair - this time of year often produces dangerous storms. I recall one in the first week of June 1989 that shut the city down for days. Big huge oak trees were strewn all over the place, power was out, schools closed, and so on. So maybe these guys saw a similar pattern setting up on Sunday?

Posted by: fleeciewool | June 8, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

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