Powerless in the DC Storm!

This scene was familiar all over the DC area, entire trees falling across a street and taking power lines with them.

If you have been following the news you have heard that we had record heat and humidity Friday in the Washington, DC area.  The temperature was 104!  As often happens, the humidity builds all day until it ends with a violent thunderstorm.  Last night, however, the storm was the most rapid and violent most of us have ever seen outside of a hurricane.  The weather man referred to this sort of storm as a derecho, a fast-moving wind storm that combines unstable air and severe thunderstorms.

Although a little blurry, you can see in this photo that this giant tree in the Westover neighborhood of Arlington landed on the roof an an apartment building!

Severe indeed!  We experienced 70 mph winds and near constant lightning!  It looked like hokey special effects on a bad movie!  I heard one radio weather man say we experienced 1100 lightning strikes!  You could hear trees falling and see the spark of branches hitting powerlines.  Occasionally you’d hear and see the pop of a transformer blowing.

This utility pole smoldered and occasionally ignigted into flames all day. The fire department was unable to do anything because these lines were still live.

Early on we noticed cars in front of our house swerving erratically and when things had calmed down a bit we went outside to discover a large tree branch–a foot in diameter at the base–had broken off an ancient oak tree and dropped into our street blocking most of what is a fairly busy artery of Arlington.

Police had to remove this large branch–about a foot in diameter at the base–from the middle of street on our block.

By 11:00 it was over and over a million people in the DC area had lost power.  We were among those million people!  We opened the windows and tried to get some sleep.  At 4:30am a massive branch that must have partially broken during the storm finally let go.  It made a crash that seemed to go on forever as we waited to hear if it would land on our roof, our neighbor’s roof, etc.  Fortunately it dropped right on the property line between houses but it did damage a section of my neighbor’s fence and land mostly in their yard.

Cleanup on Aisle 4!

In the morning I improvised a coffee maker with an old French Press and and took a travel mug to survey the damage.

Every yard looked like a debris field and there were entire trees down everywhere!  It seemd no block was spared and in many cases the trees had fallen across the road and blocked passage.  Nobody in my entire neighborhood seemed to have power.

This monstrous branch broke off the tree and landed on–and punctured–the roof of a friend of mine.

We were facing an indefinite period without air conditioning, lights, or electronics, the food in the freezer was thawing and the temperature was going to the high 90’s again!  This is where personalities began to emerge. 

One buddy of mine began immediately grousing about how hot it was going to be…it wasn’t even hot yet!  I pointed out that it was summer and it was supposed to be hot.  He said, “I don’t want to hear your New England ‘can-do’ attitude.  I’m from New York and this sucks!”  When I tweeted mid-day that it really wasn’t so bad a total stranger attacked me on twitter calling me a dumbass and telling me to wake up and see the long gas lines and the heavy traffic resulting from signals being out!

To be sure there were people who were uncomfortable and apparently angry; but, surprisingly it was not so bad!  The storm had relieved the humidity, so being in the shade made a big difference.  We spent most of the day outside cleaning up.  It brought everybody out to the front of their houses and into the street to help each other clear away branches and had many of us checking on others to make sure everything was ok.  It was one of those events that heightens one’s sense of community and mutual  vulnerability.

Because it was a weekend we didn’t have to be anywhere, that helped.  Losing electricity in summer is not as bad as it would have been to lose water.  Though the damage was severe, nobody in our neighborhood seemed to be hurt, and property damage was, for the most part, minimal.  The trees took the biggest beating.

This car will not see the open road again; but, fortunately this sort of property damage seemed to be minimal in our neighborhood.

At lunchtime we cooked hot dogs on the grill, and ate everything we could that was not going to last.  After clearing brush and limbs we were pretty hungry!

We were invited to dinner at a neighbor’s house who, for some inexplicable reason still had power while all the surrounding houses did not.  While we were sitting at dinner enjoying the air conditioning and a great meal, their power went out, nearly 24 hours after the storm!

We left and drove around Arlington, not wanting to leave the air-conditioned car.  Every gas station had long lines growing into the street, apparently people who had generators.  There were indeed very few traffic signals working and those intersections either had the left turn option blocked off or were treated as a 4-way stop.  Entire blocks of stores were dark and then another block would have power and be open. 

In this photo you can see that the tree nearly brought down utility poles on either side of it!

It was sad to see the most lively block of the Clarendon neighborhood was dark.  The Liberty Tavern, Clarendon Ballroom, Spyder Kelly’s, and Eventide were all dark on a Saturday night!  I can’t imagine how much lost income that represents.

We went home and at around 9:30 were ready for bed because it was really dark and really hot…still 90° at that hour!  I decided to just sit outside for a while on our back deck.  My phone was still charged and I was reading updates about the storm from @ArlNowDotCom and sending a message to my sisters and mom about how we were doing.  All of the sudden our whole block lit up with power.  I heard people all around our backyard yell with delight and soon you could hear outdoor AC units switch on. 

Dominion Power reports that Arlington alone still has 10’s of thousands without power and many will wait several days.  For these people it will be very difficult to get up and go to work monday like a normal day.  Stores will be challenged to stock up for 4th of July BBQ’s and it will take a week or more for life to get back to normal.

The good news however, is that this sort of incident brings out the goodness of a neighborhood and many of those people will be able to stretch an extension cord across the street to someone who does have power or join them for dinner, charge their phones at their houses, etc.

I don’t know if it’s a New England attitude, or if I really am a dumbass as the angry twitter stranger suggested but this in this case, as Mother Nature threw her hardest fastball at us, it wasn’t difficult to see the positive side!



  1. When we got hit so hard last year with the hurricane, it was amazing to see that New England attitude you are talking about. We were all so saddened by the devastation–our rivers banks will never look the same again–but also so thankful that there was not significant loss of life. We did see people pull together. Many areas up here were without power for several weeks or more. It literally was a “you can’t get there from here” situation in much of Vermont because of the damage to roads. I say shame on the grumps you ran into. Glad you all are safe (as well as your house.) BTW–I loved your posts about your Appalachian Trail experience.

    1. Thank you Becki! I appreciate your looking through the same lens. These things happen all the time and this time it was our turn. Like you say, we were lucky on all the serious counts. The rest of the problems are not without their silver linings.

      Thanks for reading the blog and thanks for the kind words!


  2. “hokey”!
    Oddly enough, we lost power only for a few minutes here and there. We’re usually very susceptible even without serious weather.
    Thanks for the new link.

    1. Thank you Elise–for the spelling once again! Glad your power hung in there! (PS: I’m working on your subscription)

  3. This storm reminded Reid and me of how “entitled” we feel to luxuries like air conditioning and hot water on demand. In many parts of the world much hotter than this, A/C doesn’t exist and clean water is difficult to obtain. A day of sweating and cleaning up our fallen branches wasn’t a big deal in the larger scheme of things. Hope your power is back on! Reid & Carol

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