(Updated at 9:30 p.m.) The National Weather Service has confirmed that a tornado caused the widespread damage seen in several North Arlington neighborhoods today.
The tornado struck around 9 p.m. Thursday night, touching down near the intersection of Lee Highway and N. Glebe Road. It was rated as an EF1 — the second-lowest on the Enhanced Fujita scale — and cut a 125 yard-wide path of damage as it made its way east through several neighborhoods, before moving into D.C. Maximum winds were estimated at 90 mph.
The twister’s 4.4 mile path ended on the National Mall, between the Washington Monument and the White House. A second tornado, rated EF0, struck near H Street NE in the District, according to forecasters.
In Arlington last night, the tornado uprooted trees, tore siding and shingles off houses, and turned trampolines and branches into projectiles.
Residents tell ARLnow they had just seconds from when their phones started blaring the Tornado Warning, shortly before 9 p.m., and when the rotating storm struck and caused havoc.
Much of the reported damage happened along the well-defined, roughly west-to-east line from the City of Falls Church and through Tara-Leeway Heights, Waverly Hills, Cherrydale and Lyon Village, before crossing the Potomac into D.C. along the National Mall.
Waverly Hills and Cherrydale suffered the worst of the storm’s fury, starting around Woodstock Park and moving along an easterly route just south of Lee Highway. The extent of the damage was evident this morning after the sun came up and chainsaws started buzzing over a large stretch of the neighborhoods.
At Woodstock Park this morning, children were playing despite the tree carnage that littered the park with fallen trees, branches and leaves. Jill Rabach was out surveying the damage to her house, just south of the park. An oak tree was leaning on her home’s roof and her next door neighbor’s fence was crushed by multiple falling trees.
“We heard the Tornado Warning and went to the basement,” Rabach recounted. “About 15 minutes later when all the noise died down we came upstairs and saw a little bit of damage not much. Power was out. By morning it was clear there was much more damage. All the houses on the street lost significant trees.”
“We’ve lived here for 15 years and there haven’t been many storms that blow that hard, that fast,” she added.
The damage continued along 20th Road N., east of the park, with tree crews hard at work clearing branches. Turning right onto N. Utah Street, the road was still blocked by a large fallen tree at 19th Road N.
Heading back up the street, more signs of a violent storm: Multiple downed trees damaged roofs, broke windows and crushed fences; siding from an unknown house lay next to a sidewalk; trash cans were lifted up and blown into neighboring yards. And stuck in a tree near the road was an unusual sight — a large trampoline.
A family in the area said their storm door swung upon so violently it became lodged into and damaged a railing.
“We got the Tornado Warning and within 30 seconds, our front door burst open. And the whole house shook and rattled,” said René Madigan. “Like it all had to have all happened at once. It pulled down all of our power lines… the house next door, it blew their door wide open, too. They have a lot more damage to their home than we have. We were blessed.”
Madigan recounted the sound of the storm as it struck the normally quiet residential neighborhood.
“I heard a horrible sound. Like it was a really horrible sound. And then the whole house just was doing this,” she said, shaking her arms. “And it just happened so fast.”
“Tornado! Get in!” Madigan recalled shouting as the family took cover.
“I heard it and I was in the basement,” Madigan’s husband said of the noise. “First I thought like a big china cabinet fell down. It sounded like… a really loud explosion.”
One street over, and also to the east, residents were out cleaning up. One house had a blue tarp on the roof, but a neighbor said nothing fell on it — shingles were ripped off at the height of the storm.
Over on N. Stafford Street, Jeff Jackson was picking up tree branches across the street from St. Agnes Catholic School in Cherrydale. The Arlington native now lives in Portland, Oregon, but is home taking care of his mother. He was at a friend’s house nearby as the storm approached.
“We saw the rain starting, and we went out to watch it. And on 21st Street, we started seeing transformers exploding. I told my friend and his roommate, I said, ‘My mom’s home alone…. I need to go,'” Jackson said.
“So I drove from the 7-Eleven two blocks away through the storm with trees coming down, and transformers exploding, and I pull up in the driveway,” he recalled. “Then the tree came down and took out the carport where her car would have been in the neighbor’s garage.”
“I’m inside with my mother who’s 80 years old and legally blind and has an injured knee… I’m like, ‘Mom, we need to move. Let’s go to the middle of the house,'” he continued. “She says, ‘If they’re gonna get me, they’re gonna have to get me here.’ I said, ‘Mom, this is my first day of retirement, they can’t get me, let’s go.'”
Despite the damage to carport, Jackson’s house was largely spared. The neighboring house down 20th Road N. wasn’t as lucky.
“The neighbor’s house, a limb about three inches in diameter speared the top of their house and went through the bedroom with them in it. That’s crazy. And the rain was coming in. Another limb has traveled 200 feet horizontally into a transformer,” he said, pointing out a large branch — resting on utility lines — that had apparently come from a tree up the street.
Further east, the damage was more scattered but still evident. Downed tree branches blocked N. Kirkwood Road last night. The privately-owned Lyon Village Community Center was damaged and covered in tree branches, from several large trees that fell and also crushed a nearby metal dumpster.
“It was nutso,” said a nearby resident, who was marveling at the size of one immense fallen tree with his wife and infant this afternoon, while recounting several minutes of exceptionally strong winds last night.
As the storm continued to track east, trees were knocked down at Key School. Another downed tree could be seen in front of office buildings in nearby Courthouse.
At Key Elementary School in Arlington’s Courthouse neighborhood this morning, large fallen tree branches—but no apparent structural damage—after last night’s storm. @WTOP @ARLnowDOTcom pic.twitter.com/1c3Dz1EB03
— Joe Conway, WTOP (@JoeConwayWTOP) July 2, 2021
Survey teams from the National Weather Service were out in Arlington and D.C. today, recording the damage.
Even beyond the tornado’s path, the numbers tell a story of one of the worst storms in Arlington’s recent history. A weather station in Ballston recorded a 62 mph gust at 8:58 p.m., according to NWS. And firefighters say they responded to dozens of calls for wires down and fires related to storm damage.
Storm Update: July 1, 2021 the ACFD responded to the following incidents after 9pm.
16 – Fire Alarms
15 – Wires Down
12 – Outside Fires
4 – Structure Fires
3 – Stuck Elevators
1 – Vehicle Crash
1 – Technical Rescue
Thank you to all our partner agencies for assisting! pic.twitter.com/okGFgOeSNo
— Arlington Fire & EMS (@ArlingtonVaFD) July 2, 2021
At least three people were hurt: one man who was pinned after a tree fell on his house near the intersection of N. Utah Street and 16th Street N., near Washington-Liberty High School, and two people in a car that crashed and overturned along Washington Blvd near Columbia Pike as the storm struck.
As of 3:15 p.m., around 1,000 Dominion customers were without power in Arlington, down from more than 11,000 last night. More than 250 people were still without power as of 9:30 p.m., according to the power company.
More on the tornado from a National Weather Service statement, issued Friday night:
ON THURSDAY EVENING, JULY 1, 2021, A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM MOVED EAST FROM ARLINGTON COUNTY INTO NORTHWEST WASHINGTON DC, GENERATING A TORNADO THAT PRODUCED INTERMITTENT WIND DAMAGE ALONG A 4.4 MILE PATH FROM THE WAVERLY HILLS NEIGHBORHOOD OF ARLINGTON TO NEAR 16TH STREET NW AND CONSTITUTION AVENUE NW IN DOWNTOWN WASHINGTON DC.
WSR-88D RADAR IN STERLING, VIRGINIA, AND THE FAA TERMINAL DOPPLER WEATHER RADAR FOR RONALD REAGAN WASHINGTON NATIONAL AIRPORT INDICATED THAT THE TORNADO TOUCHED DOWN AT 8:59 PM EDT IN THE WAVERLY HILLS COMMUNITY OF ARLINGTON. NUMEROUS TREES WERE SNAPPED IN MULTIPLE DIRECTIONS IN THIS COMMUNITY, NOTABLY IN AND AROUND WOODSTOCK PARK AND IN THE BACKYARDS OF RESIDENCES ON THE 4500 BLOCK OF 20TH PLACE N IN ARLINGTON. ONE TREE IN WOODSTOCK PARK HAD ITS BARK REMOVED AS A RESULT OF THE WIND. AS THE TORNADO CROSSED INTO THE CHERRYDALE NEIGHBORHOOD OF ARLINGTON, SEVERAL TREES WERE UPROOTED AND NUMEROUS LARGE BRANCHES WERE SNAPPED, SOME BLOCKING ROADS AND DOWNING POWER LINES. SOME HOMES HAD SIDING REMOVED. MUCH OF THE DOWNED TREES AND BRANCHES FELL TO THE EAST, BUT SOME FELL TO THE NORTH AND NORTHEAST AS WELL. MAXIMUM WINDS WERE ESTIMATED TO HAVE REACHED ABOUT 90 MPH, AN EF-1 ON THE ENHANCED FUJITA SCALE.
WIND DAMAGE JUST SOUTH AND SOUTHWEST OF THE TORNADO TRACK WAS DETERMINED TO BE THE RESULT OF STRAIGHT LINE WINDS. THIS DAMAGE BEGAN NEAR I-66 BETWEEN VA-267 AND US-29 IN EAST FALLS CHURCH, AND CONTINUED EASTWARD SOUTH OF THE TORNADO TRACK THROUGH WESTOVER AND VIRGINIA SQUARE, GENERALLY ALONG WASHINGTON BLVD. NUMEROUS TREES AND LARGE LIMBS WERE DOWNED. MULTIPLE TREES FELL FACING EAST NEXT TO THE CRESCENT ON N WESTMORELAND STREET DAMAGING A FENCE. ONE TREE AND LARGE LIMBS FELL INTO A HOME IN THE 4300 BLOCK OF 16TH RD N, INJURING AND BRIEFLY TRAPPING A RESIDENT. THERE WERE ALSO NUMEROUS TREES DOWNED AROUND WASHINGTON-LIBERTY HIGH SCHOOL.
THE TORNADO CONTINUED EAST OVER THE LYON VILLAGE NEIGHBORHOOD, DOWNING SEVERAL TREES AND NUMEROUS BRANCHES ACROSS THE NORTH END OF THE COMMUNITY, INCLUDING AROUND THE COMMUNITY CENTER. THE TORNADO WEAKENED SLIGHTLY AS IT MOVED INTO THE COURTHOUSE COMMUNITY, PASSING JUST NORTH OF KEY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, CONTINUING TO SNAP LARGE BRANCHES AND DOWN POWER LINES. DAMAGE BECAME HARD TO IDENTIFY AS THE CIRCULATION CROSSED THE HIGHLY URBANIZED AREA OF ROSSLYN, BUT EMERGED AGAIN AFTER THE TORNADO CROSSED THE POTOMAC RIVER AND ENTERED THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.
THE CIRCULATION LIKELY CROSSED THE POTOMAC RIVER NEAR THE THEODORE ROOSEVELT BRIDGE. THE FIRST SIGN OF TORNADIC WIND DAMAGE WAS AT THE WEST END OF THE NATIONAL MALL, WITH A SNAPPED HARDWOOD TREE ON THE MALL ON 23RD ST NW BETWEEN CONSTITUTION AVENUE NW AND LINCOLN MEMORIAL CIRCLE. TREE DAMAGE AROUND THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL AND FURTHER SOUTH INTO WEST POTOMAC PARK AND NEAR THE DC WAR MEMORIAL WAS DETERMINED TO BE CAUSED BY STRAIGHT-LINE WINDS. HOWEVER, ACROSS THE MALL ALONG CONSTITUTION AVENUE NW, WIND DAMAGE TO TREES ON THE MALL PARALLELING CONSTITUTION AVE NW WAS PROMINENT FROM 23RD ST NW EAST FOR 0.75 MILES TO NEAR 16TH STREET NW SOUTH OF THE ELLIPSE. TREE LIMBS FELL TO THE NORTH ON CONSTITUTION AVENUE NW, ORTHOGONAL TO THE STORM’S MOTION, INDICATING CONVERGENCE AND ROTATION. CONCENTRATED DAMAGE AT THE NORTH PORTION OF CONSTITUTION GARDENS WAS CHAOTIC AND CONVERGENT, WITH HARDWOOD LIMBS AND DOWNED TREES FALLING IN MULTIPLE DIRECTIONS, INDICATING THE TORNADIC CIRCULATION. FINALLY, THE LAST DISCERNIBLE TORNADIC DAMAGE WAS TO TEMPORARY FENCING ON THE MALL THAT WAS INSTALLED FOR THE INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATION, DIRECTLY ACROSS FROM THE ELLIPSE. THIS FENCING APPEARED TO HAVE BEEN LIFTED UP AND TWISTED, LANDING IN A MANGLED AND HAPHAZARD MANNER.
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE THANKS ARLINGTON COUNTY’S OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA’S HOMELAND SECURITY AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, THE MEDIA, OUR SKYWARN SPOTTERS, AND THE PUBLIC FOR THEIR ASSISTANCE IN IDENTIFYING DAMAGED AREAS.
Anuj Khemka contributed to this report.
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