By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times –
Residents from the Midwest to the East Coast endured a fourth straight day of scorching heat on Monday, as crews worked to restore service to the remaining 2 million customers in the Washington, D.C., area without power after weekend storms.
Morning commutes were clogged because of nonfunctioning traffic signals and roads blocked by trees, and some utilities where outages were widespread warned that it could be several days before power is fully restored.
The Edison Electric Institute estimated that the 600-mile-long band of storms, at peak, disrupted electric service to roughly 4.3 million customers in the mid-Atlantic region — about a third of local utilities’ total customers. The storm produced the largest number of non-hurricane-related power outages in Virginia history, according to the trade group.
In Arlington, Va., problems with the 911 emergency phone system forced officials to make contingency plans. “We’re telling folks that in an emergency, if they dial 911 and can’t get through, they need to go to a fire station to get assistance,” said Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius. “We’ve never had to do this before.”
Public anger was building toward utility companies, including Potomac Electric Power Co., which provides service to Washington, D.C., and to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland. The utility has been criticized in the past for taking days to restore electricity after winter storms. Utility officials said they were requesting help from as far away as Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida and Canada.
Politicians, perhaps mindful of elected officials who have been voted out of office for failing to respond urgently to weather emergencies, pledged to stay on top of utilities.
“Nobody will have their boot further up Pepco’s backside that I will to make sure we get there,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said at a news conference. “We suffered a hit that was the equivalent of a hurricane impact … and yet we did not have the four days of warning.”
As of Monday afternoon, more than 227,000 customers had no power in Washington, D.C., and the Maryland suburbs, according to Pepco. Another 215,000 customers were without power in Baltimore and central Maryland, according to Baltimore Gas and Electric.
In Virginia and parts of North Carolina, Dominion Power said it still had 237,000 customers without electricity and predicted that 80 to 85 percent would have power restored by Tuesday.
Since Friday, at least 18 deaths have been attributed to severe weather in the mid-Atlantic region. Emergencies were declared in Washington, D.C., and in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio because of extensive damage from straight line winds known as “derechos” or “micro-downbursts.” The winds, ranging from 80 to 100 mph, rocketed from Indiana to the East Coast in just six hours Friday night and Saturday morning.
The punishing winds were spawned when convection clouds collided with a mass of hot, muggy air, causing parts of the air mass to collapse and shoot out as high-powered winds, said Calvin Meadows, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Most of the East Coast can expect highs in the mid-90s at least through Independence Day on Wednesday, the National Weather Service predicted. That’s below the triple-digit heat over the weekend but still much hotter than normal.
From Friday through Sunday, more than 1,100 daily record highs were broken or tied nationwide, the National Weather Service reported. Atlanta was one of several cities that recorded all-time high temperatures, with a high Saturday of 106 degrees.
Daniel Porter, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the eastern half of the country is trapped in an extensive high pressure system that is pumping hot, moist air across an area ranging from South Dakota to the Atlantic Ocean. The system is blocking cooler, drier air to the northeast, Porter said.
High-pressure systems are common this time of year. But Porter said: “It’s the position of the high and the strength of the high, with no relief from other (cooler) fronts, so the temperatures just keep building.”