Lightning dazzles over Tacoma skyline

Spring thunderstorm rolls through Tacoma

A late afternoon thunderstorm lit up the skies over Tacoma and Pierce County.
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A late afternoon thunderstorm lit up the skies over Tacoma and Pierce County.

Lightning lit up much of Western Washington on Thursday afternoon, bringing with it hail and rain.

The storm arrived to Tacoma about 3:15 p.m., ruining what had been to that point a beautiful, 70-degree day.

The most brilliant lightning moved through little more than an hour later.

The National Weather Service issued a series of severe thunderstorm warnings for the unusually strong storm, advising of 50 mph wind gusts and quarter-sized hail falling throughout Western Washington, especially in the Cascade foothills.

“It’s definitely unusual,” Weather Service meteorologist Chris Burke said. “Some years we don’t ever get a thunderstorm outbreak like this. We have one this year, though.”

The fast-moving storms didn’t hang around long, but they did have short, intense bursts of rain — up to half an inch in half an hour.

That was enough rain to cause ponding and minor flooding locally.

Warm, humid air throughout the Puget Sound region met with a southerly flow aloft to create the atmospheric instability that led to the thunderstorms, Burke said.

“There’s been about 1,000 lightning strikes in Western Washington,” Burke said about 6 p.m. “It’s more than our usual one-clap wonder, that’s for sure.”

The weather pattern is similar to what produces summer thunderstorms in the region.

Ominous clouds of an approaching thunderstorm frame this stack of rocks piled by a beachcomber on the Purdy spit. Photo taken in Purdy on Thursday, May 4, 2017. Drew Perine

The Weather Service did not receive any reports of large hail, Burke said, though the radar signature of the storm cells looked as if they could have produced it.

Much of the precipitation had moved through Pierce County going north by 6 p.m., Burke added.

A severe thunderstorm watch remains in effect through 11 p.m.

Flooding closed Point Defiance Park on Thursday night, according to Metro Parks Tacoma. The park is expected to open as scheduled Friday.

Trees were down throughout the area, and roads in Thurston County in particular were hit hard.

Some vehicles traveling on Interstate 5 there had to pull off the road because the storms were so intense, Burke said.

In a Tweet, Lacey police advised residents to stay off area roads to leave them clear for first-responders.

In Vaughn, on the Key Peninsula, lightning strikes were coming about once every 30 seconds or so about 5 p.m.

Utilities throughout the region are struggling to maintain power as a strong spring storm rolls through the South Sound on Thursday.

Nearly 30,000 Puget Sound Energy customers are without power, the utility reports, including much of Lacey and Olympia, and portions of Auburn.

About 600 Tacoma Public Utilities customers were without power, according to that utility’s website.

Outages were also reported in Longbranch on the Key Peninsula, according to Peninsula Light Co.

Commuters riding the Sounder train between Lakewood and Seattle were delayed by up to half an hour because of signal outages along the route, according to Sound Transit.

Staff writer Craig Sailor contributed to this report.

Kenny Ocker: 253-597-8627, @KennyOcker

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