30 june 2012

After Storms in Mid-Atlantic, Stifling Heat and Power Loss

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and MARC SANTORA, New York Times, June 30, 2012

WASHINGTON — Millions of people without electricity struggled through the scorching heat on Saturday after a deadly string of thunderstorms whipped through the mid-Atlantic region the night before, downing trees and power lines, and killing at least 12 people, including a 90-year-old woman who died when a tree fell on her house as she slept.

The damage was most severe in the Washington suburbs of Northern Virginia and Maryland, where some residents huddled in their basements as the storm ripped through the area, blowing down trees, upending lawn furniture and tearing off roof shingles.

“It came on very suddenly,” said Laurie Singer, a resident in a heavily wooded area of Potomac, Md. Her home has large plate-glass windows, and she spent 45 minutes huddled in the bathtub, listening as the huge oak trees outside slapped against the glass.

“It was a very short burst of heavy rain and then you heard this swooshing sound, and it was the wind,” she said. “I actually felt the house shaking.”

More than three million people in nine states woke up on Saturday morning without power. But after the storms dissipated on Saturday, the heat set in. Temperatures soared into the triple digits in some places. With utility crews struggling, people across the mid-Atlantic faced the prospect of days without electricity.

“You could draw a line from Denver to St. Louis to Washington, D.C. All those areas are in the hundreds right now,” said Daniel Porter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, saying the heat was hurting the recovery effort.

Some sought refuge in movie theaters, coffee shops and malls. On Saturday afternoon, Mont-gomery Mall in Bethesda, Md., was jammed with people seeking air-conditioning and working lights. Dozens camped out on the floor, with laptops, iPads and cellphones plugged into sockets on the walls.

President Obama telephoned the governors of Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia, all of whom declared states of emergency. Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia said his state had suffered the largest “non-hurricane power outage” in its history.

“This will be a multiday restoration effort,” the governor said on his Twitter feed Saturday afternoon, “very much like a hurricane restoration.”

All across the region, people tried to cope. The men’s shelter in northeast Washington where William Burrell was staying lost power and hadn’t regained it by Saturday morning. “The fans, the air-conditioning, all of it. It was burning up,” he said. “So they opened the doors to try to get some air to circulate through, but by that time the thunderstorm had stopped, and there was the littlest, light breeze, but it wasn’t enough to cool everybody off that was in there.”

Julie B. Rubenstein, a lawyer who lives in Northern Virginia, said that after suffering through the night with no power and no air-conditioning, she retreated to her office. She described how friends who rushed to grocery stores to get bags of ice found only long lines and limited supplies. At one point, she said, a “near-fight” broke out over a bag of ice.

“It is great that I had an office I could go to,” she said, “but so many people don’t.”

In Virginia, authorities opened 90 air-conditioned shelters where residents could go to escape the heat.

There were reports of deaths from the storm and heat in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky. In Clark County, Ky., a man was killed when a tree fell on him, officials said.

In Chandlersville, Ohio, a woman died when her barn collapsed on her as she went to check on her animals.

In southern New Jersey, two young cousins were killed when a tree fell on the tent they were camping in, according to The Associated Press.

In addition to the dead, at least 20 people were injured, according to the National Weather Service.

In New York, residents faced temperatures in the 90s and a labor disagreement at the utility. Talks between Consolidated Edison and 8,500 workers over company proposals to reduce pension benefits came to a halt Sunday morning. Officials of the union representing the workers, Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America, said they were told not to report to work on Sunday after the deadline for a new contract passed at midnight.

For some, the damage was not life threatening, just inconvenient.

The storm forced the delay of the third round of the AT&T National golf tournament because of fallen trees on the grounds of the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Officials said that even as play resumed, fans and volunteers would not be allowed access on Saturday.

When the storm knocked out power for an Amazon data center in Northern Virginia that hosts some popular Web sites, services like Netflix, Instagram and Pinterest went down. Most of the sites were back online Saturday afternoon.

At airports in the Washington area, power failures forced some airline workers to enter data manually, causing delays. The emergency response was also hampered in some areas where the 911 system was not functioning correctly, including in Fairfax County, Va.

Officials with the National Weather Service described the Friday night storm as “a derecho” — a long line of ferocious thunderstorms that produce a large swath of damaging winds. The storm moved from the Ohio Valley east to the mid-Atlantic states at 60 miles an hour, producing winds in some places of up to 90 miles an hour, said Mr. Porter, the meteorologist.

The hottest weather in the mid-Atlantic is expected around the Washington area, where temperatures on Friday reached 104.

Thomas H. Graham, the president of Pepco, the utility that serves the area around Washington, said its workers were out inspecting the damage once the storm passed. But, in a statement, the company said for those without power — which included more than half of its 788,000 customers — “the power-restoration effort is expected to take several days.” Other power companies gave similar estimates.

In McLean, Va., Debra DeShong Reed and her husband hustled their two children, 4 and 1, into the basement to wait out the storm, which tore off a piece of their roof. “We thought it was a tornado because it came on so quickly,” she said.

Commuters were also affected. Amtrak stopped service between Washington and Philadelphia overnight. By noon on Saturday, trains were still idled, stranding thousands of commuters.

At 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, passengers waited throughout the morning for word of when southbound train service would resume.

“This is horrendous,” Brian Lucy of Manhattan said as he sat on a suitcase and held his 3-year-old son, Jesse.

Officials said it could take up to a week to restore power fully. But by Saturday evening the lights in some homes across the region started coming back on.

Sarah Bryner, 28, a researcher for a Washington nonprofit group, was planning to spend the night in a hotel with her husband to escape her sweltering apartment in Takoma Park, Md., but received word on Saturday evening that power had returned.

“It feels like we won the lottery,” she said. “People’s windows are closed again. You can hear all the air-conditioning units running.”

Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported from Washington, and Marc Santora from New York. Reporting was contributed by Emmarie Huetteman from Washington; Mark Landler from Bethesda, Md.; Colin Moynihan and Michael Schwirtz from New York; Peter Khoury from Philadelphia; and Nick Bilton from San Francisco.

Heat Wave: 1,000+ Records Fall in US in a Week


Associated Press June 28, 2012 (AP)

Feeling hot? It's not a mirage. Across the United States, hundreds of heat records have fallen in the past week.

From the wildfire-consumed Rocky Mountains to the bacon-fried sidewalks of Oklahoma, the temperatures are creating consequences ranging from catastrophic to comical.

In the past week, 1,011 records have been broken around the country, including 251 new daily high temperature records on Tuesday.

Those numbers might seem big, but they're hard to put into context — the National Climatic Data Center has only been tracking the daily numbers broken for a little more than a year, said Derek Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the center.

Still, it's impressive, given that records usually aren't broken until the scorching months of July and August.

"Any time you're breaking all-time records in mid- to late-June, that's a healthy heat wave," Arndt said.

If forecasts hold, more records could fall in the coming days in the central and western parts of the country, places accustomed to sweating out the summer.

The current U.S. heat wave "is bad now by our current definition of bad," said University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver, but "our definition of bad changes. What we see now will be far more common in the years ahead."

No matter where you are, the objective is the same: stay cool.


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