WASHINGTON -- A massive storm system surged Thursday toward the Mid-Atlantic after causing widespread power outages and flash flooding, but largely failed to live up to fierce billing through the Upper Midwest.
The Washington, D.C., area braced for the storms, and the National Weather Service issued severe thunderstorm watches and warnings for much of the region. Forecasters warned that the storms could produce damaging winds and large hail, and said the threat would run from early afternoon to early evening Thursday. A flash flood watch was in effect. Morning thunderstorms caused relatively minor damage. In Maryland and Delaware, officials reported trees down, roads closed, and tens of thousands of power outages after a line of heavy thunderstorms moved through.
In Washington, the Office of Personnel Management said federal agencies in the area would open but that workers would be allowed to take unscheduled leave or work from home. In Delaware, thousands were without power and a 19-year-old woman who works at Plumpton Park Zoo in Rising Sun, Md., was struck by lightning and sent to the hospital.
In southern West Virginia, the Roane County 911 center has been evacuated and roads in the Spencer area are closed because of flash flooding.
Still, overall, the storms appear to have caused less wind damage than was feared through early Thursday, said Bill Bunting of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. Whether they were as bad as anticipated "depends on where you live," he said.
He said thunderstorms took longer than expected to merge into a large line that could cause widespread damage. The merger also happened farther east than expected, which limited the potential for widespread damage in Illinois and Indiana, though those states still had pockets of severe weather.
Even before merging, the individual storms remained powerful, Bunting said.
Besides reports of damaging winds and preliminary tornado sightings, the weather service has received reports of hail at least an inch in diameter in locations stretching from southeast Minnesota to Virginia, he said.
In Ohio, storms with swift, straight-line winds soaked parts of the state, knocking down trees and barns and leaving many without power Thursday as commuters dodged fallen branches on roads and faced backups at intersections where traffic lights were out.
Straight-line winds topping 70 mph were reported and more than two dozen tornado warnings were issued as two rounds of storms pummeled the state, but no twisters have been confirmed, said Phillip Johnson, who was part of the team monitoring developments for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.
Play was suspended at the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia less than two hours after the start of the first round and resumed about three hours later.