Crews worked through the day Tuesday to restore power to thousands of people after heavy rains and winds barraged the Baltimore region Monday evening, toppling utility poles, severing power lines and upending trees.
The storms brought straight-line winds that knocked over numerous 80-foot utility poles along the bustling main road into Westminster, trapping nearly 50 people inside their cars for hours. Across the region, trees snapped and branches smashed onto roads and into houses.
Around 89,500 Baltimore Gas and Electric customers lost power. Wind damage was the most extreme across a swath of northern Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties, where the majority of the power outages occurred.
The National Weather Service classified Monday’s severe thunderstorms as “moderate risk” for the first time in at least 10 years. That’s the second-highest level of risk for thunderstorms and is usually reserved for days when several supercells produce intense tornadoes, large hail or destructive squall lines with widespread damaging winds.
The line of storms migrating east surged into the Baltimore area with pounding rain and violent winds around 5 p.m. After the first wave subsided after an hour, another burst of rain and wind came later in the evening.
Winds reached 22 mph at BWI Marshall Airport with gusts of up to 43 mph, but the worst of the storm appeared to have struck well north of the airport.
In Carroll County, residents described a rainstorm that felt like “buckets of water” were blowing sideways from the sky.
National Weather Service meteorologists are still determining the strength of the straight-line winds that barreled into Baltimore Boulevard in Westminster. Straight-line wind, unlike tornadic wind, does not rotate. There have been no tornado sightings, said Kyle Pallozzi, a weather service meteorologist in Sterling, Virginia.
The fierce winds knocked down more than 30 utility poles along Baltimore Boulevard, dropping the towering beams across the busy three-lane road for over a mile. The 80-foot poles are buried 11 feet into the ground. Live wires entangled 34 cars, trapping 33 people and 14 children inside their vehicles while BGE crews worked for over five hours in the rain to shut off the electricity.
It is “extremely rare” for that number of poles to be broken in one weather event, said Stephanie Weaver, a BGE spokesperson. The damage impacted more than 10,200 customers.
Soji Omotehinse, 39, was driving home from work on Route 140 when the sky turned so dark the cars in front of him were barely visible. He said he saw a utility pole ahead of his Mazda starting to spark and the pole beginning to sway.
Omotehinse pulled over as the pole crashed onto the road. An electrical wire sliced into the right front fender of his Mazda. He said a man driving an open-topped Jeep jumped out and ran to the side of the road.
Police arrived in minutes, Omotehinse said, and carefully passed food and water through his window throughout the night. He had to wait seven hours for the wires to be de-energized before he could exit safely around 11 p.m.
“The car was shaking,” Omotehinse said of the electric wires that surrounded the Mazda. He returned to the scene on a blustery Tuesday morning, hoping to collect his glasses and eyedrops from his car.
“This is something I’ve not experienced in my life,” he said. “It was a terrible experience yesterday. Terrible.”
The abandoned cars sat frozen in the same position they were in when the storm hit well into Tuesday. Shattered glass, wood and debris from broken fuses and transformers littered the road. A strong wind blew down the empty boulevard, rattling the bucket lifts BGE workers stood in to repair the sagging electrical lines.
The boulevard — Route 140 — remained closed Wednesday in both directions between Market Street and Gorsuch Road.
A BGE spokesperson said it likely will take the longest time to restore power to businesses along Baltimore Boulevard. Many stores and restaurants were dark Tuesday morning. BGE is still figuring out the extent of the needed reconstruction and a timeline for service to be restored, the spokesperson said.
Smaller utility poles were snapped along Littlestown Pike near the Carroll County Regional Airport. The storm uprooted many trees north near Manchester.
BGE said crews were tackling more than 1,000 restoration jobs in locations across central Maryland. Crews restored power to “approximately 80 percent of customer outages within 17 hours after the peak of the storm,” a spokesperson said Tuesday.
The entire service area saw some outages, though most were in northern Maryland. By 9 a.m. Wednesday, 18,005 BGE customers were still affected, most of whom live in Carroll County. Over 1,000 outages were still active Wednesday morning. BGE expects the vast majority to be restored Wednesday night.
One injury was reported in Westminster, Mayor Mona Becker said.
Gov. Wes Moore held a news conference early Tuesday in Westminster to praise first responders for their calm approach to the chaotic storm, in which no one was injured seriously. He was joined by Lt. Gov Aruna Miller, BGE CEO Carim Khouzami and the superintendent of Maryland State Police, Col. Roland Butler Jr.
“Last night lives were saved,” Moore said. “There were people who were stuck and stranded in cars who were able to sleep in their own beds last night. And that’s because of the work of everyone involved and our first responders who made it so.”
“This storm was real,” Moore added.
Thirty roads were closed Monday night and 5 were still closed Wednesday, half of them in Carroll County, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation.
The storms also will impact Baltimore’s light rail service until Thursday. A temporary bus bridge will accommodate passengers between North Avenue and Lutherville stations, according to the Maryland Transit Administration. Light rail trains are running southbound from North Avenue to Cromwell and BWI, and on the north end, from Lutherville to Hunt Valley until Thursday evening.
The northern section of the Baltimore Metro SubwayLink line, between Owings Mills and Mondawmin, and the light rail between BWI and Linthicum stations were suspended Monday because multiple trees fell on the tracks.
In Anne Arundel County, a coastal flood advisory was in effect until 2 a.m. Tuesday as tides risked being significantly higher than average. Tides on the county’s shoreline were 1 1/2 to 2 feet above normal, according to the weather service.
Several locations near City Dock in Annapolis flooded Monday morning.
Southern Harford County was placed on a coastal flood advisory as well, in place until 7 a.m. Tuesday.
The storms in Maryland were part of a broader system. At least two people died, thousands of U.S. flights were canceled or delayed, and more than 1.1 million homes and businesses lost power Monday as severe storms that included hail and lightning moved through the eastern U.S. Tornado watches and warnings posted across 10 states from Tennessee to New York. The National Weather Service said more than 29.5 million people were under a tornado watch Monday afternoon.
In Anderson, South Carolina, a 15-year-old who arrived at his grandparent’s house during the storm was struck and killed when a tree fell on him as he got out of a car, according to the Anderson County Office of the Coroner. In Florence, Alabama, police said a 28-year-old man was struck by lightning and died, WAAY-TV reported.
By Monday night, more than 2,600 U.S. flights had been canceled and nearly 7,900 delayed, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. Many cancellations were at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport, which was digging out from disruptions caused by Sunday storms.
Throughout the region, the weather service recorded a range of 1 to 2 inches of rain during the storm. Nearly 1.83 inches had fallen at BWI by 6 a.m. Tuesday.
Temperatures throughout the week are expected to remain in the mid-80s, reaching 88 degrees Wednesday and 82 degrees Thursday, according to the weather service.
Rain is likely Thursday afternoon with a chance of thunderstorms. Winds gusts are expected throughout the day and could reach up to 20 miles per hour.
After mostly sunny skies Friday, there’s a chance of showers and thunderstorms Saturday. Sunday and Monday are expected to be mostly sunny.
Last month was particularly rainy in Central Maryland, with nearly half of the days in July seeing at least some rainfall at BWI, according to the weather service, which reported July’s total rainfall at the airport was about 2 1/3 inches more than average for the month.
Baltimore Sun reporter Caitlyn Freeman and the Associated Press contributed to this article.