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Severe Thunderstorm Blows Through New York City

By  Maya Shwayder and Julie  Shapiro | July 26, 2012 9:10am | Updated on July 26, 2012 11:11pm

NEW YORK — The sky darkened and thunder rumbled Thursday evening as a severe thunderstorm blew through New York City. 

Wind gusts of up to 54 miles per hour were measured at JFK Airport and on Staten Island, said Joey Picca, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

As of 9:30 p.m., more than 1,200 Con Edison customers were without power, about half in The Bronx, the utility said. The storm also delayed flights at more than half a dozen airports along the East Coast, including JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In Cobble Hill, a man walking down Clinton Street was seriously hurt Thursday evening after lightning struck a church steeple and caused scaffolding around the church to partially collapse onto the sidewalk, officials said.

As storm clouds descended on the city just before 8 p.m., some people outside Grand Central Terminal stopped to take photos of the roiling dark gray sky, but most hurried to shelter as drops of rain began to spatter the street. A downpour soon drenched those who hadn't made it inside in time.

Anthony Santateresa, 27, was on his way to Grand Central to catch a train home to Dutchess County when he and his younger brothers got caught in the storm.

"We just hit it at the right time," a dripping Santateresa said. "We'll wring out our shirts later."

Meteorologists had warned that the city could see tornadoes and quarter-sized hail, along with wind gusts of up to 70 miles per hour, but it appeared that the fast-moving storm was not as severe as it could have been, Picca said.

Still, for those who were caught outdoors, the rain alone was more than enough to handle.

"That wasn't a thunderstorm, it was Niagara Falls in NYC," tweeted @KennCampbell. "I'm drenched and fortunately my macbook made it through OK." 

Forecasters expected the rain to taper off by about 11 p.m. Thursday.

Several extreme weather conditions — including high winds and humid air — combined to create Thursday's storm, which meteorologists predicted would wreak havoc from Ohio to New England.

"We're expecting an elevated risk [of damage] versus a typical summer pop-up thunderstorm you'd see on a hot and humid day," Picca said earlier in the day. "If you don't need to go out, don't go out."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned New Yorkers to be prepared for the bad weather and said the State Emergency Operations Center would be activated at 1 p.m.

“I urge all New Yorkers to take caution and pay attention to local radio and television reports for the latest information on the progress of these summer storms," the governor said in a statement on his website.

"Proper precautions undertaken now can help ensure that the strong winds and heavy rain cause as little damage as possible and that families and individuals are kept safe from harm."

As the storm bore down on New York Thursday, Cuomo brokered a deal between Con Edison and locked-out union workers to get the 8,000 workers back on the job before the thunder and rain began, after a nearly month-long dispute.

Cuomo also provided advice for New Yorkers on his website in preparation for the storm.

With reporting by Ben Fractenberg