Storms enliven Fourth of July

Thunder, lightning, heat, downpours precede fireworks


Thunder and lightning, heat and downpours delivered a pounding prelude to Fourth of July fireworks displays throughout Maryland yesterday - at least those not canceled by whipsawing weather that scorched and soaked holiday celebrations.

There was a silver lining to the clouds: The 35 mph storm front that dumped 1.5 inches in several areas moved quickly enough to keep the ground - drenched from last week - from seriously flooding again.

But storms are expected again today that could linger longer and dump more rain.

"We're concerned about flash floods," said Roger Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "The storms could produce heavier rains."

Fast-moving thunderstorms yesterday left nearly 70,000 people without power in Maryland, canceled a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performance at Oregon Ridge Park and forced the temporary evacuation of the National Mall in Washington.

Baltimore opened nine "emergency cooling centers" to provide senior citizens and others with places to escape the heat.

But the hardest-hit area was Anne Arundel County, where more than 7,000 people lost power as storms dumped about 1 1/2 inches of rain in parts of the county, according to BGE and the National Weather Service.

Shareese N. DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign, said she was one of those without electricity.

She said she went outside to turn her car alarm off when a bolt of lightning scared her back behind closed doors.

"It was one of those War of the Worlds lightning strikes, and I ran back into my house," said DeLeaver, who was without power for more than three hours.

BGE reported that more than 25,000 customers were without power about 9 p.m. Pepco reported that 42,319 of its customers - mostly in Montgomery and Prince George's counties - lost power.

"These were pretty severe thunderstorms," Smith said.

Highs yesterday reached 94 degrees at BWI, well below the 2002 record of 100 degrees, Smith said.

Mitchell Taylor and Stacy Gaddy of Glen Burnie held off on leaving for the Inner Harbor fireworks display until rain passed. They checked the weather and decided the threat of more rain was not enough to keep them away.

But, in unison, they and Gaddy's son and niece explained how they escaped the heat: "staying inside."

Faith Randolph, a waitress at McCormick and Schmick's restaurant in the Inner Harbor, did not have that option. Her 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift forced her to wait on customers who wanted to sit outside.

"That was hell," Randolph said.

Eric and Carolyn Rehwoldt traveled from Silver Spring with their three children to join their friends - Andrew and Lisa Wasyluszko of Pikesville - at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert at Oregon Ridge Park.

But when they arrived in two cars at the Baltimore County park about 6:30 p.m., they learned that the concert had been canceled and rescheduled for tonight because of the weather. "I was disappointed we didn't listen to the radio," Andrew Wasyluszko said.

So the seven headed downtown, umbrellas in tow, to watch the Inner Harbor fireworks.

Those fireworks went off without a problem, which is far better than what holiday revelers dealt with in Washington.

The Associated Press reported that thunderstorms forced thousands of people to leave the National Mall, and take shelter in nearby Smithsonian museums and other buildings.

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