Hail fell in Garden City. (Aug. 1, 2011)

Hail fell in Garden City. (Aug. 1, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

A mass of hot, unstable moist air brought strong thunderstorms, hail and damaging winds to parts of Long Island, knocking out power to almost 6,000 LIPA customers last night, officials said.

The summer storms, which also caused disruptions on the Long Island Rail Road, produced hail -- in some cases the size of golf balls -- that pelted New Hyde Park, Garden City, Hempstead, East Meadow and Great Neck.

The system ripped through the East End sometime after 8 p.m. before moving southward and offshore. LIPA reported, shortly after 9 p.m., that it had outages affecting 5,896 customers -- many of them in Riverhead, Southold and Southampton. That number went down throughout the night with repairs. Riverhead police said the storm had left several trees and wires down in the area.

"Most of these are pop-up showers," said Lauren Nash, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service station in Upton. A severe thunderstorm watch was in effect until 10 p.m. for all of Long Island.

Lightning struck a house in Oceanside, causing slight damage, the Oceanside Fire Department said.

The owner of the house on West Henrietta Avenue, Richard Aiello, 49, said he was in the backyard reading a newspaper when lightning hit his roof. "It nearly knocked me off of my chair. It was the biggest bang that I ever heard in my life," he said.

Neither he nor his wife, Robbin, 48, who was inside, were hurt. He said neighbors reported seeing a huge flash over his house during the impact. The lightning struck the chimney and the back of the house, blowing out the vinyl siding of the split-level stucco home.

Before the storm hit, an air-quality alert was issued for Nassau and Suffolk counties, the weather service said.

State health officials and the weather service in Upton said pollutant levels in outdoor air are elevated during such conditions and advise people with respiratory conditions to limit their outdoor activity.

The alert is in effect until 1 a.m. Tuesday and also covers portions of New York City and Rockland and Westchester counties.

The state health department said the very young and those with asthma or heart disease are most affected by the air quality.

Temperatures will continue to be near 90 again Tuesday, with a 30 percent chance of rain Tuesday night and into tomorrow morning, the service said.

With Zachary R. Dowdy, Gary Dymski, Alfonso A. Castillo, Bill Mason and Ann Givens

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