Severe Mini-Storms Cause Big Damage in Northwest D.C.

Within 20 minutes on Saturday, July 29, around 4 p.m., a severe storm that the weather service had been warning the Washington area about for hours, hit Northwest D.C., including Georgetown.

It split huge old trees apart, ripped gigantic branches from their trunks to block entire roads and driveways and in some cases smashing windows, covering cars and damaging homes. Some telephone and power poles were toppled or bent throughout Northwest, but particularly in the Wesley Heights area of D.C. 

“The noise of the wind and the rain was so loud, we didn’t even hear the ripping of mature tree branches and their crashing onto the ground,” said Leslie Jewett a longtime home owner on Garland Street. It was a shock she said when the storm passed to find that most all the nearby streets were blocked with downed trees and branches, tipping telephone poles and power lines. Her power went out during the storm. Although within hours there were power crews and firemen everywhere trying to restore the power and clear the streets, by Sunday evening, electric power in her neighborhood still had not been recovered.

It was neither a tornado nor a derecho that hit the area, according to meteorologists, but a series of strong “mini bursts.”  They were caused by the combination of extreme heat and humidity, a strong cold front, and a vigorous disturbance high in the atmosphere. Heavy sheets of rain that could not be seen through and winds exceeding at times 80 mph pummeled the District just after temperatures reached a record 97 degrees in the area – the highest so far of the year.

Some 200,000 customers lost power, according to Pepco. By Sunday evening, over 1,000 customers were still without electricity, particularly in Montgomery County and Northwest quadrant of DC, especially the area near American University.

The west end of O Street in Georgetown was temporarily blocked by a large fallen tree that was quickly removed and sidewalks and driveways were cluttered with large fallen branches. Trees that stood in the historic curved driveway of former Washington Post newspaper publisher Katharine Graham’s home on R Street (later bought by Marc Ein) were spectacularly split in half by the storm.

There was tree damage at Montrose Park and Volta Park. The National Cathedral reported: “Saturday Storm Leaves Trail of Devastation on Cathedral Grounds.”

Trees were reported down on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Prince George’s County, Interstate 95 near Dumfries in Prince William County, the Capital Beltway and the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Fairfax County, and Interstate 66 in Arlington County, with roads at least temporarily closed in the area on Saturday and Sunday, according to the Washington Post.

Sections of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, from Spout Run Parkway to the Capital Beltway, were also closed according to the National Park Service, which manages the parkway.

But the weather in D.C. by Sunday morning was in the pleasant low 80s with little humidity, blue skies, sunny with a breeze.  “This is the calm after the storm,” said one resident gratefully as he took photos of the dramatic damage caused by the Saturday storm.

Mayor Muriel Bowser visited Wesley Height on Monday, stopping around noontime at the intersection of Cathedral Avenue and Dexter Street to assess the damage and hold a press conference.



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