Storms drive away vestiges of summer

Montgomery Co. hardest hit as heavy rain, gusts to 65 mph usher in cold front

November 06, 2003|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Indian summer was muscled out of Maryland yesterday by a cold front spiked with thunderstorms that damaged homes and downed trees and power lines in western Montgomery County.

A caddy was blown off his feet by a lightning strike in Poolesville, and five golfers were shaken up. But only the caddy was hospitalized, with injuries that did not appear to be life-threatening, authorities said.

Gusts up to 65 mph blew off a few roofs and tore siding off houses. "The real estate agency roof is in front of town hall," said John Speelman of Poolesville Hardware. "We have 50-pound bales of hay that were blowing down the street like Styrofoam cups."

The storms also generated a tornado warning in Montgomery County. But National Weather Service officials said they would be unable to confirm witness reports of a tornado strike until they conducted a damage survey today.

As much as 2 inches of rain drenched Montgomery, snarling traffic at the start of the Washington-area rush hour. The line of fast-moving storms turned to light rain and dissipated as it swept east across Howard and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City. Baltimore-Washington International Airport had three-quarters of an inch of rain.

Such tempests are not uncommon as winter approaches, forecasters said.

"The cold air is really starting to try to come into the United States in advance of winter, and there's still some lingering remnants of summer," said Jeff Warner, a meteorologist with Penn State Weather Communications. "The interaction will produce these types of storms ... with lots of rain and occasionally thunderstorms."

Central Maryland has enjoyed almost a week of Indian summer. High temperatures have reached the 70s and 80s - as much as 18 degrees above normal - with plenty of sunshine.

But change was in the wings, Warner said.

As the mercury neared 79 degrees yesterday at BWI, a cold front was approaching from the Ohio Valley, and maritime air in the 40s and 50s dropped down from New England into New Jersey. That put the squeeze on Maryland and Virginia.

In midafternoon, a line of showers developed along the Appalachians and moved east into Maryland and Virginia. Sunshine got the pot boiling, and the showers became severe thunderstorms.

At 3:10 p.m., the weather service issued a severe storm warning for Montgomery County, later extended to Baltimore City and Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.

A tornado warning for Montgomery followed at 3:21 p.m. after a police officer reported a twister in the Boyds area.

Although weather radar showed "a tornadic thunderstorm" in that area, the weather service said the report was later "clarified." The officer saw storm damage, but no tornado.

But officials reported trees and utility poles down north of Poolesville.

Two townhouses near Boyds lost their roofs and a third sustained severe damage, said Chief Tom Carr of the Montgomery County Division of Fire and Rescue. All three houses were condemned.

In all, he said, about 20 homes in the western part of the county sustained damage, from fallen trees and chimneys to lost roofing and siding.

"Nobody was hurt in any of these, miraculously," Carr said.

But a lightning strike at the new Four Streams golf course in Poolesville knocked a caddy to the ground, Carr said. He was admitted to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville.

Sun staff writers Ariel Sabar and Candus Thomson contributed to this article.

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