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More than 7,000 customers lose power during severe storm in Washington County

July 23, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER | kate.alexander@herald-mail.com
  • According to the homeowners, this tree at 1224 W. Church St. in Hagerstown was struck by lightning.
By Chris Tilley/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — A weather system scorching the Northeast with triple-digit temperatures brought another fury to Washington County Friday, unleashing a severe afternoon thunderstorm that toppled trees and a stadium light pole, and knocked out power to more than 7,000 customers.

Blistering 101-degree temperatures fell to a mild 75 degrees in little more than an hour, as nearly a half inch of rain peltedHagerstown, according to Hagerstown Weather Watcher Greg Keefer's website i4weather.net.

"Not a good time," a Washington County 911 dispatcher said at about 3:45 p.m., just after the storm had passed. "Trees and wires are down all over the place; we are so backed up here."

In the city, the storm brought down a 100-foot steel light pole onto the Municipal Stadium baseball field, canceling the Hagerstown Suns' Friday night game against the Augusta GreenJackets.

Without the large fixture, there would not be enough light play the 7:05 p.m. game, team officials said.

A crew from the Hagerstown Light Department worked to remove the fallen pole. As of 6:30 p.m., the crew was cutting it into pieces to lift it from the field.

Suns General Manager Bill Farley said the pole fell between the end of the bleachers and the picnic area on the third-base side.

The pole hit the front corner of the beer garden overhang, crushed a low section of chain-link fencing before coming to rest on the field just behind third base, he said.

The pole's lamps landed face down, strewing broken glass across left field.

Farley said he was told the pole had been rusting at the base.

No one was injured at the stadium, but Farley said officials have moved today's game against the Greenville Drive from its scheduled 7:05 p.m. start time to 3:05 p.m. to maximize daylight.

The city will repair the stadium damage before today's game, he said.

The Suns rent Municipal Stadium from the city.

The light department will replace the fixture as soon as possible, Farley said, noting that the Suns will have the remaining seven light poles inspected for similar rust.

As of Friday, the cost of the stadium damage had not been estimated, city Communications Manager Mary King said.

Meanwhile, a block away, the storm caused a tree in the area of Rose Hill Cemetery to fall across Memorial Boulevard, temporarily closing the road between Frederick Street and South Potomac Street.

The storm brought down numerous trees and wires in Washington County, according to Edwin Plank, director of the Washington County Highway Department.

However, he said that, to his knowledge, no county routes were closed because of the storm.

"Honestly, it could have been a lot worse," he said.

For the more than 7,000 customers without power Friday, temperatures stayed below the 90s throughout the afternoon and evening, according to Keefer's site.

In the city, more than 2,000 light department customers lost power during the storm, King said in an email. By 6 p.m., 1,800 of those customers had their power restored, she said.

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Power had been restored to all city light customers by 1 a.m. Saturday, King said.

A website that details outages in the Potomac Edison service area reported that more than 5,000 of its customers in Washington County were with power after the storm.

By 10:10 a.m. Saturday, 348 Potoamc Edison customers in Washington County were still without power, according to the company's website.

Despite all the damage, the storm brought a much-needed reprieve from the heat.

Before the storm, Keefer's site recorded Friday's high at 101.7 degrees, with the low at about 79 degrees.

That temperature, rounded up to 102 degrees, matched the record high for the city first set in 1926, according to Keefer's site.

The heat index — a combined measure of heat and humidity that registers how hot the air actually feels — reached 124 degrees at about 2 p.m., the website said.

Nicole Jovel, a spokeswoman for Meritus Medical Center, said the emergency department saw a few heat-related cases Friday before the storm.

She said the hospital was not expecting any more heat-related cases Friday evening, due to decreased temperatures.

Kevin Witt, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service Sterling, Va.,  said the excessive heat warning for Washington and surrounding counties was canceled at about 7:45 p.m. Friday.

A heat advisory is in effect for today from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Today's high is expected to reach about 97 degrees with a heat index of about 103 degrees.

With expected high humidity and temperatures in the low-to-mid 90s, there is a chance for more afternoon thunderstorms today and storms again Sunday, he said.

— Sports Writer Bob Parasiliti contributed to this story.

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