Storms ravage NOVA: power loss and major property damage

05 June 2008

It's probably hit your local news by now, but I'll push on with this article, anyway. A series of violent thunderstorms ripped through northern Virginia yesterday afternoon and went on well into the night, wrseaking havoc as they went. Lyssa tells me that the power went out in our neighborhood around 1500 EST5EDT yesterday, around the time that she and Jason were on their way to the optomitrist's office to get her eyes checked. They tell me that it took them better than an hour to make a three hour drive from route 7 to our road. For my part, I was soaked to the skin within seconds of setting foot outside, and the wind was strong enough to force water beneath the doorseals of my car, so that the passenger cabin was only slightly less humid than outside (the windows were in fact up - that's why I ran outside to check). When I actually punched out to go home the rain had all but stopped (for a couple of hours), but the aftermath was plain to see: Trees were down all over the place, disrupting traffic (one resulted in an hour-long detour that gave me ample opportunity to sit back in the driver's seat and read a book) and knocking out power all over Fairfax county. Not a few stoplights were inoperative, and most of the highways were practically parking lots in places for no good reason (as is often the case around here, it was less "the stoplight's out - let's be careful" and more "We're all going to the same place, so why did we suddenly stop?"). I recall one woman walking along the side of the road and covering more distance in half an hour than I did in my car as I tried to get back to the main road. Between those things, pedestrians suddenly darting out from between parked SUVs, minor flooding blocking entire lanes, and police directing traffic, it took about two and a half hours to get back home. Kind of sad when you take into account the fact that it was only about fifteen miles.

Lyssa and I had decided to take Jason out for dinner because he'd taken her to the doctor's office yesterday afternoon, so after changing into dry clothes and swapping out my trainers for boots, we hit the road to try to find a restaurant that still had power. As it turned out, to reliably find open restaurants that didn't suck we had to go all the way to southwestern Fairfax County, which didn't weather the storms particularly well. All told, we counted four stands of trees that had either been struck by lightning or blown down in the wind, three of which had taken power lines with them as they came down. One of them was just a few blocks from the apartment complex: When the tree came down it pulled the power lines and utility pole with it, and then the whole mess came down on top of someone's house. We didn't get any photographs of it because I was more concerned with not being t-boned by idiots who decided that it was time to drive at seventy miles per hour through the aftermath than I was documenting the sight for posterity. Besides, with the power having been out for over four hours by this point, there was little point in doing so because most of the Network was offline anyway. Unfortunately, we haven't had a chance yet to pick up any blasted-off bits of the trees, and I doubt that there will be much left by the roadside by the time I leave today.

Interestingly, cellular communications were spotty during and after the storms. I was able to receive but not transmit text messages; same with telephone calls. I was able to receive calls successfully but my side of the conversation barely made it through (as Hasufin and I discovered after I got home). I suspect that this had to do with the disruptions to the power grid caused by downed power lines and probably a few lightning strikes here and there.

The three of us wound up going out for Thai food in a strip mall (the name of which always escapes me - it's the one in Fairfax County with the not-so-indie-anymore movie theatre, AC Moore, China Star, and hobby shop) because we know that it's good, and the entire complex still seemed to have power. Finding parking was a trick because everyone and their backup seemed to have the same idea as us, so we dropped Lyssa off to get a table while Jason and I hunted down a parking space. We got to the restaurant just in time: the clouds opened and the rain picked up again. Though the lighting was pretty, there wasn't much in the way of thunder, which made it difficult to estimate exactly how far away the core of the storm was. Lyssa went on ahead to DHS to look for a new pair of shoes for her sister's bridal shower next weekend while Jason and I stopped in the Hobby Store to see what they had (RPG books: not much; other things to use in projects - quite a bit, though I don't have time to work on much of anything right now) and then AC Moore (why didn't anyone tell me that they had complete resin casting kits there?! Lyssa and I went all the way out to Rockville looking for casting resin!!). Around 2100 EST5EDT we headed for home, just as the rain got worse. The power still wasn't back on when Jason left, and the rest of the night was spent by flashlight. As I recall, the power didn't come back on until 0100 this morning, when all of the lights and the air conditioning suddenly reactivated. I left the Network offline until just before we left for work this morning, not only to give the UPS a chance to recharge (note to self: get off my ass and set up APCUPSD to automatically power everything off when mains power fails) but just in case the power failed again, the Children wouldn't be caught out in the middle of resync'ing the drive arrays.