‘Do not take this threat lightly’: Strong storms in DC region’s forecast

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“There are several competing factors, but if they all lined up just right, we could face a significant risk for large hail, damaging winds and even the possibility of a tornado,” Storm Team4 meteorologist Chuck Bell said. The storms may roll in Thursday afternoon.

Lightning zips across the night sky over Northwest D.C. and Maryland’s Chevy Chase late on July 28, 2021.

WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez

A thunderstorm produced vivid cloud-to-ground lightning over Arlington, Virginia, late on July 28, 2021.

WTOP/Dave Dildine

Lightning zips across the night sky over Northwest D.C. and Maryland’s Chevy Chase late on July 28, 2021.

WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez

An oncoming storm generates cloud-to-ground lightning on July 28, 2021, viewed north along the Potomac from the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

WTOP/Dave Dildine

Lightning zigzagged across the night sky late Wednesday as a round of strong thunderstorms made their way through the D.C. region, with damaging winds downing wires and trees on some major roadways — ahead of a larger outbreak likely Thursday.

The National Weather Service cataloged over a dozen cases of wind-related storm damage from a cluster of thunderstorms that intensified over central Maryland and moved south through Virginia and the District after dark on Wednesday. Hail between a quarter-inch to an inch wide was reported around 9:30 p.m. just east of Gaithersburg.

But Wednesday’s late night thunder might pale compared to what forecasters expect Thursday afternoon, when the weather service has much of the region flagged under an “enhanced” risk of severe weather — its third of five risk levels.

“There are several competing factors, but if they all lined up just right, we could face a significant risk for large hail, damaging winds and even the possibility of a tornado,” Storm Team4 meteorologist Chuck Bell said. “Do not take this threat lightly.”



The same instability that sparked Wednesday’s storms will linger Thursday as a cold front takes the stage, setting up a clash between the existing humid air mass, and an oncoming, much drier one. Timing will be from midafternoon until midnight for the main threat, Bell said, with the District and northern Maryland, including Baltimore, under the bull’s-eye.

While Thursday will be hot and humid, a few factors might act to limit storm formation — chiefly cloud cover to the west and Wednesday night’s storms having drained some of that energy out of the atmosphere.

But if Thursday’s storms manage to overcome those obstacles, plan to see lines of supercells coalesce along the Pennsylvania state line and move southeast with the potential to hamper afternoon and evening commuters along Interstates 95, 70 and 270. If you’re on the road, slow down and avoid high-standing water.

The week turns milder and drier after Thursday as a steady northwest wind blows away the humidity, bringing back sunshine and pushing daytime highs into the low to mid 80s through Saturday. The next significant chance of rain looks to be Sunday, with a risk of afternoon storms.


Forecast:

Thursday: Partly cloudy, hot and humid. A chance of storms, some of which could be strong to severe. Highs in the upper 80s to low 90s.

Thursday night: Cloudy and muggy. Clearing after evening storms. Lows in the upper 60s to mid 70s.

Friday: Morning clouds. Becoming breezy and cooler, with lower humidity. Highs in the mid to upper 80s.

Saturday: Mostly sunny, cooler and delightful. Very low humidity. Highs in the upper 70s to mid 80s.

Sunday: Mostly cloudy with showers likely. A rumble of thunder possible after noon. Highs in the low to mid 80s.


Power outages:


Current conditions:

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