What a night!

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A strong line of thunderstorms caused isolated pockets of damage throughout the Roanoke-Chowan area early Wednesday morning.

National Weather Service officials confirmed Wednesday morning there were no tornados to touch down in the local area. Doppler radar indicated rotation within several of the quick-moving thunderstorms, thus leading to tornado warnings in all four R-C area counties. However, any damage that occurred was apparently caused by microbursts from straight-line winds.

Storm rips roof from home; mother, daughter survive

The most severe damage appears to have occurred in the Lewiston/Kelford area of Bertie County where an 84-year-old woman and her 60-year-old daughter miraculously survived a harrowing experience.

There, on Moore Road, storm damage left two family members trapped inside their home for nearly five hours.

Shortly after 1 a.m., strong winds ripped the roof off a house, located one mile east of Kelford.

The storm also shattered several windows and turned all the home’s insulation into scattered bits of white fluff.

The homeowner, 80-year-old Ethel Moore, was in the bedroom with her disabled 62-year-old daughter, Barbara Jean Moore, when the storm struck.

The elder Moore was unwilling to leave her wheelchair-bound daughter but was unable to remove her from the home, so there the two stayed until first light when she was able to see to find the phone and call for help.

Dozens of people at the scene Wednesday morning were amazed that anyone survived such widespread damage.

“It’s a wonder those two weren’t seriously injured or worse,” remarked Rickey Freeman, Bertie County’s Emergency Management Coordinator.

Freeman and others initially thought the damage was caused by a tornado spawned by the storms, but an investigator from the National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the damage came from a microburst of very strong straight-line wind.

“He told us it’s a wind that blows straight and downward. What happens is when it goes down it pushed the roof up and lifted it off the house,” Freeman explained.

NWS official Bill Sammler was the one who came down from Wakefield, Virginia to investigate the incident.

“It was just wind, but I would rate the magnitude of those winds somewhere in the 80-90 mile per hour range, based on the damage I saw,” Sammler stated.

He added, “The most difficult thing for people to actually believe is that a straight-line wind can actually produce that magnitude of damage. People have a preconceived notion that any sort of structural damage has to be either a tornado or a hurricane, but that’s not the case.”

All of eastern North Carolina was under a tornado watch until 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, with parts of Bertie County under a tornado warning, but NWS officials report that there were no known actual tornado touchdowns in the area.

While Sammler stated that straight-line wind damage was not uncommon, he called the damage to the Moores’ home extreme.

“If we were to rank the damage that we saw on Moore Road… it would end up on the upper end,” he said.

Freeman further told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald that the NWS investigation revealed the 80-90 mph winds probably lasted anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute.

“Just 30 seconds to a minute of high wind caused all that damage, that’s wind just as strong as a hurricane. The reason they (NWS) ruled out a tornado was that if it had been a tornado it would have scattered the debris after circulating,” he stated.

The Moores’ home, which was constructed in 1982, was fully insured and the damages will be covered under that policy.

An unoccupied mobile home in the back of the house was also completely destroyed, in addition to several outbuildings and a vehicle.

Amazingly, neither woman was injured in the storm or its aftermath.

This isn’t the first time Moore Road has been affected by bad weather. On March 28, 1984, a deadly twister tore through a mobile home park along that stretch of road. Six were killed, including five in one family. Nineteen others were injured.

Como area affected by storm

The Statesville Road/Boone’s Bridge Road area of northwestern Hertford County near Como was also hit hard by Wednesday morning’s storms.

“It hit around 1 a.m. and jarred me out of my bed,” said Boone’s Bridge Road resident William Crary. “I heard a roar and then a whoosh. When it calmed down enough, I looked out my door and could see where the wind had torn the tin off my carport.”

As it turned out, the carport roof wasn’t the only damage.

The wind peeled the tin off a portion of the home’s roof, leaving timber exposed to the elements. It also sliced between two outbuildings and lifted a third, a metal shed, from its foundation, tossing it like a child’s toy into a nearby field.

Debris from the shed was scattered all over, including the top of a tree in a wooded area adjacent to the farm field.

Crary said it appeared the burst of strong wind started at his neighbor’s homes and worked its way across an open field. At the home of Alan Turner, located within eyesight of Crary’s residence, the high wind shifted a three-car garage off its foundation and also caused a tree to uproot and strike the side of the home. Another neighbor, George Evans, suffered downed trees, one of which grazed the side of that residence.

Crary said this wasn’t his first experience with rough weather.

“I’ve been here since 1991 and this is the third time I’ve had damage from a storm,” Crary said, referencing previous incidents involving hail and high wind. “When I moved here, someone told me this was tornado alley.”

Over on Statesville Road, damage occurred at R.O. Whitley, Inc., a peanut buying station and storage facility.

According to Hertford County Emergency Management Director Charles Jones, there were no reports of any major damage in the county other than in the Como area.

Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan echoed the report from Jones, saying the only damage his office had found was in the Como area.

“My guys rode around the county to check everything out once the storm subsided,” Vaughan said. “There was only minor damage other than in the Como area.”

Structural damage minor in Northampton County

While there was a tornado indicated on Doppler radar in the first bout of storms that came through Northampton County, it was straight-line winds that caused the most damage in a second early morning storm.

According to Northampton County Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Byers, the largest amount of damage occurred around 1 a.m. Wednesday in the Conway area and was caused by straight-line winds moving northeast with the storm.

In that area a freestanding double carport was ripped up from its foundation and tossed into a tree.

On the same property, located three miles west of Conway on US 158, a farm building’s roof was lifted up from the structure.

Byers said a home within the Conway city limits suffered minor damage, during the same early morning storm, when two trees fell near the residence.

Though a couple of tornado warnings were issued for the county, Byers said no tornado touched down in the area.

With the first batch of storms that came through late Tuesday night, Byers said the National Weather Service in Wakefield, Va. issued the warning when Doppler radar indicated a tornado in the Gumberry area.

He said while some trees were found toppled, and no funnel cloud is believed to have touched down.

“All in all we had three different homes with minor damage and two structures not used as residences (damaged)—one roof lifted off and one was completely destroyed (those structures in the Conway area),” said Byers.

Byers said local volunteer fire departments along with the Department of Transportation were working to clear the roads of tree debris. No injuries were reported.