An afternoon of severe weather behind sweltering temperatures from a three-day heat wave has finished up, bringing down trees, damaging homes and causing power outages for thousands of customers across the D.C. region.
Reports of trees down, buildings damaged and power outages across the Baltimore Washington region were in the hundreds of thousands Saturday night, with significant impacts hovering around the District and its suburbs.
As of 11:50 p.m. on Saturday, more than 33,400 Pepco customers were without power, according to the company. The number was down drastically from the 200,000 total customers who were without power just hours earlier.
Addie Kauzlarich, a spokesperson for the company, said that the numbers would continue to fall, with nearly half of impacted customers having their power restored by late Saturday evening.
“For a second day in a row, severe storms with damaging winds, heavy rain and lightning moved through the Pepco service area causing damage to the local energy grid and power outages for customers. At this time crews are assessing damage and we will be updating restoration times as they become available. Pepco and contractor crews will continue working safely to restore service quickly as possible for customers,” Kauzlarich said.
Over 49,000 Dominion customers in Northern Virginia, and more than 20,000 BGE customers and 15,000 SMECO customers in Maryland, were also without power in the immediate wake of these significant summer storms.
Richard Yost, speaking on behalf of BGE, said customers should expect the outages to extend through Saturday evening while crews continue to work.
“Our goal is to restore every customer as quickly as it’s safe to do. So, you know, safety is paramount for our employees, for the mutual assistance crews and for our customers, but we are out there working as fast as we can to get everyone back as soon as possible,” Yost said.
Peggy Fox, spokesperson for Dominion Energy, said that the company isn’t going to be able to provide an estimate for restoration, but that work is underway.
“People are working overnight to restore power, but due to the large number of damage locations from the storm, it’ll take time,” Fox said in a statement.
Officials continue to warn against getting close to downed powerlines, which could still be electrified, and encourage residents to stay cool after near-record breaking heat.
“This will not be a quick restoration. Be careful with candles and live power lines,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said, later adding that “the City will be keeping Charles Houston Recreation Center open overnight as a cooling center.”
Announcement: Charles Houston Recreation Center (901 Wythe St.) is staying open overnight in light of recent power outages. Stay safe Alexandria!
— AlexandriaVAGov (@AlexandriaVAGov) July 30, 2023
Traffic impacts from storm continue
Drivers around the region, who are likely already dealing with the effects of these outages, remain overwhelmed by a growing number of downed trees blocking roadways.
Northern portions of George Washington Memorial Parkway were closed Saturday and remained closed through Sunday evening as crews removed trees, branches and other debris.
“Due to the storm that moved through the northern Virginia area on Saturday afternoon, numerous trees fell across the travel lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Currently, the northern section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway (from Spout Run Parkway to the Capital Beltway) is closed as tree crews work to remove trees from the roadway,” the agency said.
Other areas of the parkway, along with the Clara Barton Parkway, also dealt with significant downed trees and closures while officials work to clear the roadways.
Anyone encountering downed trees along the GW Parkway can report the issue to the U.S. Park Police by calling 202-610-7500.
Staying safe after severe weather
First responders across the region were dealing with downed trees, power lines and serious damage to residences and people.
Police in Prince William County, Virginia, said officers are investigating the death of a 43-year-old man in the 15300 block of Holly Hill Drive that may have been caused by the storm’s strong winds. The department said a tree was toppled by strong winds and fell on a home along that road.
“The cause of death is not confirmed,” the department said.
WTOP reached out to Prince William County police to request more information about the apparent death. A spokesperson said the department did respond to a death in that area at around 5:30 p.m., but they could not confirm if the storm was responsible for the man’s death.
“We’ve been tremendously busy. Hundreds of calls, some on the water, some on land over in Trinidad. We had a tree in an apartment building that we had to evacuate. Fortunately, no injuries,” Vito Maggiolo with D.C. Fire and EMS told WTOP.
Over in Rockville, Maryland, serious storms brought damage to the Original Pancake House location along Rockville Pike. Pete Piringer, the spokesperson for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services, said that damage to the building appears to be the only immediate harm caused.
“No injuries and no pancakes,” Piringer said.
WTOP Traffic reporter Dave Dildine called this line of storms one of the “stronger summer storms we’ve seen” in a couple of years.
“I am seeing some significant damage in parts of Northwest D.C. Countless trees are down, manhole covers displaced and open pits disabling cars,” Dildine said. “Numerous major roads, like Fox Hall Road, are blocked. People are walking around with a stunned expression around Palisades.”
The latest wind gust reports from within the storm, as of 6:07 p.m., were traveling at 58 mph at Hoffman-Boston Elementary School in Arlington, VA, according to WTOP meteorologist Chad Merrill.
The NWS also tweeted at 6:05 p.m. that strong winds are following behind the line of storms, with wind gusts reaching 35 to 45 mph.
“This will be dangerous for those outside since there is a lot of debris hanging around,” NWS said.
WTOP meteorologist Steve Prinzivalli said that northwesterly winds will bring cooler and less humid weather for the second half of the weekend.
“Quieter and refreshing weather returns by Sunday,” Prinzivalli said.
The storm will also impact access to some local attractions Sunday morning, according to officials. National Zoo visitors should expect the park to be among those closed while storm clean up is underway.
Where to beat the heat and stay cool on Sunday
D.C. is urging residents to stay cool and hydrated, check on older adults and other vulnerable neighbors, keep pets indoors and wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen.
The District has activated its Hot Weather Emergency through Sunday. D.C. spray parks and recreation centers have extended hours through Sunday, and cooling centers throughout the District will be available for those seeking relief from the heat.
Christopher Rodriguez, director of the District’s homeland security agency, said that Mayor Muriel Bowser’s declaration of a hot weather emergency this week allows the city to open cooling centers and other facilities so residents can beat the heat.
He urged residents to familiarize themselves with the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and to avoid strenuous activities outdoors whenever possible. A list of the District’s cooling centers can be found online.
“Do not underestimate the impact that this heat emergency is going to have on you. I know there’s a lot of people out there who want to go out for their runs, or want to spend a lot of time outside,” Rodriguez said.
“Limit your time outdoors, and make sure you stay hydrated. Because you’re dealing with triple-digit temperatures and the potential for a heat index of up to 110 degrees, you can very quickly feel those impacts.”
Additionally, D.C. Public Schools have canceled all outdoor activities through Sunday.
In Virginia, Fairfax County said its cooling centers will have supplies available, including bottled water, sunscreen, insect repellent and body wipes.
With the heat advisory, Loudoun County has designated some libraries, community centers and recreation centers to serve as cooling centers.
The City of Alexandria is offering cooling centers at its libraries and recreation centers. The Potomac Yard Park Interactive Fountain operates from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Prince William County has designated all its public libraries as cooling centers, and encourages residents to monitor the county’s Emergency Information Page in case any other cooling resources are announced.
In Maryland, Montgomery County has made cooling centers available to residents. Passengers on Montgomery County Ride On buses will also have access to free bottled water during service hours.
Anne Arundel County offers cooling centers in public libraries, some district police station lobbies and senior centers.
Calvert County has designated libraries and community centers as cooling centers.
In Charles County, cooling centers are available at the Capital Clubhouse, the Richard R. Clark Senior Center, Nanjemoy Community Center and the Waldorf Senior & Recreational Center, as well as public libraries.
Prince George’s County offers cooling centers at some senior centers, community centers, recreation complexes and ice rinks. Residents are asked to check in at the facility’s front desk when they arrive.
Howard County offers cooling centers at community centers, senior centers and libraries during their normal hours of operation. The county advises anybody who needs shelter or other assistance to call the Grassroots hotline at 410-531-6677.
Parts of the U.S., particularly the Southwest, have been battling blazing temperatures this month, and health experts urged people to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.
WTOP’s Abigail Constantino, Emily Venezky, Terik King, Veronica Canales and Tadiwos Abedje contributed to this report.