Relief blows in with storms

The Baltimore Sun

The region's late-spring heat wave ended with a bang overnight as a barrage of showers and thunderstorms pummeled the area, cutting power, toppling trees and frightening drivers.

More than 58,000 customers in Central Maryland had lost power by 10 p.m. as the storms rolled toward the Baltimore region, according to BGE.

The wind and rain boiled up ahead of a cool front moving out of the Midwest, which is expected to reduce the humidity that has smothered the area since Saturday.

However, the storms that brought the cooler weather were fierce - and nearly fatal.

Near Dulaney Valley Road and Loch Raven Drive, a tree smashed onto Craig Cocharo's 2007 Honda Accord, trapping him for 15 minutes. The piano teacher was two minutes from his appointment when he says everything went blank. The tree trunk had landed in his back seat.

"You don't hear anything, see anything or perceive anything. It just happens," he said later. "I have no recollection of the car stopping. I have no recollection of the roof falling in or hearing the tree smash into it."

Mark Vernarelli, a state corrections spokesman who happened to be driving behind Cocharo, saw the tree crush the car and nearly was hit himself by another falling tree.

He and another driver ran to help Cocharo.

Cocharo said he felt the pressure of the car's roof against his neck and couldn't move his hands or legs.

He said he was able to lower the seat before fire officials rescued him.

"Anyone in the back seat would have been dead," he said.

After firefighters freed Cocharo, Vernarelli said, they shook hands.

"There is no doubt in my mind that God saved a man's life tonight - and mine too," Vernarelli said.

Sections of Baltimore and Harford counties were hit hard by the storm, which caused many downed wires and trees, especially in Cockeysville and Lutherville, said Lt. Nancy Gill, a Baltimore County Fire Department communications supervisor. She said some of the trees landed on houses. No injuries were reported.

Sue Collins, a spokeswoman for the Harford County operations center, said as the storm headed for the northern parts of the county, emergency sirens at the nearby Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania, county civil defense sirens and sirens atop some county fire stations sounded.

Three funnel clouds were reported by county police officers and emergency operations employees, Collins said. "Since they didn't touch the ground, they did not turn into tornadoes," she said. She added one was spotted at Routes 23 and 24 near Hickory; another in the 3500 block of Level Road in Level; and the third on Moores Mill Road near Bel Air.

Fallen trees also disrupted light rail service between Hunt Valley and Falls Road, forcing passengers onto a bus. Traffic came to a stop on southbound Interstate 83 in Timonium, where a tree blocked lanes.

The storm also brought damaging lightning.

Henry Wright of Lutherville said lightning twice struck two towering red oak trees at his vineyard on Marburg Manor Drive, ripping off strips of bark and killing several squirrels.

"It's not often you see the same tree hit twice. And there were two trees hit like this," he said.

The storms began popping up in Western Maryland and northern Virginia after 3 p.m., and headed east. Trees and power lines were reported down in Frostburg, and a National Weather Service employee in Frederick, Va., reported hailstones an inch in diameter.

Tuesday's airport high reached 96 degrees, a degree shy of the record for the date, set in 1964.

The temperature reached 100, briefly, at The Sun's downtown weather station and 98 at the Inner Harbor. The approaching storms quickly knocked that down into the 80s by 6:30 p.m.

The four-day stretch of 90-plus high temperatures was the first extreme weather of the season. And, coming on the heels of a very wet and cool May, it seemed all the more unexpected.

Daytime highs reached 95 degrees on Saturday at BWI, with oppressive humidity. Other locations, including The Sun's weather station at Calvert and Centre streets, reached 100 degrees.

Sunday was a little less humid, but still very hot, with a high of 93 degrees at the airport.

Monday's readings peaked at 94 degrees at BWI, but clear skies and strong sunshine made it uncomfortable to be out of the shade. Readings again reached 100 degrees downtown at The Sun.

Schools without air conditioning sent students home early, and even the State Department of Education offices in downtown Baltimore closed in part Monday.

The air-conditioning units serving seven floors of the 10-story building quit, and indoor temperatures reached 92 degrees, one employee reported.

The system was partially repaired yesterday, and office temperatures had fallen to 78.

The high temperatures and humidity put high demand on the region's electric power grid. Yesterday's peak consumption figures were not immediately available, but Monday's reached 129,812 megawatts across Maryland, 12 other states and the District of Columbia.

Sun reporter Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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