‘Scary’ storms cause minor damage

Published 10:45 am Monday, February 29, 2016

Despite several tornado warnings, the Roanoke-Chowan area escaped the brunt of Mother Nature’s wrath on Wednesday.

A strong low pressure system advancing from west-to-east on Wednesday ran head-on into a warm, humid air mass that set off several rounds of heavy rain, thunder and lightning, and strong winds. A few of those thunderstorms did reach severe levels and possessed “spin” as indicated on weather radar, but apparently none of those cyclones reached the ground.

However, folks in Colerain would think otherwise as that Bertie County town nestled on the banks of the Chowan River was hit hard by Wednesday’s wicked weather. The damage wasn’t as severe as when the twin twisters hit in April 2011 and claimed 12 lives.

“Our biggest concern Wednesday was Colerain, because that’s the only place where we did have any sort of significant weather event,” said Bertie Emergency Management Director Mitch Cooper.

Cooper added that officials with the National Weather Service were scheduled to be in Colerain on Friday at which time they will survey the damage there and determine if the town was hit by a tornado or powerful straight line winds from a thunderstorm.

“We had some trees down throughout the county and the power was knocked out in some spots in Aulander for about an hour-and-a-half, two hours, but we were very fortunate throughout this event,” Cooper added.

“There was one report here in Windsor where a tree fell through a barn, but (other than Colerain) that was it.”

“There were no injuries and no loss of life,” he continued. “We have a very resilient group of citizens here and they perform well under this type of pressure. A few years ago we weren’t so lucky, but we recovered from that very well.”

As far as the response to the damage in Colerain, Cooper offered praise to two organizations there.

“The Colerain Fire Department, and the Baptist Men’s Group, they were all right there ready to go,” he said.

“Everybody needs to be prepared (when word comes down that these sort of events are imminent), everybody needs to know where the safest place is during that type of weather because it’s something you can’t forget – and at that very moment you need to know where to go,” Cooper concluded.

Despite the high wind gusts and some isolated reports of small hail, Hertford County was basically unscathed by the storm.

“We were lucky with this particular storm system,” said Hertford County Emergency Management Director Chris Smith. “There were reports of damage in counties far to our south and we all know what happened and are saddened by the news of the three deaths up in Waverly, VA, but the storm had no major impact here in our county.”

Smith said there were a few “scary moments” with the storm, especially with several sudden bursts of wind.

“But even then, there isn’t any damage to report,” he stressed. “I haven’t found any damage or heard any reports of any major damage. I saw some tree limbs down and some trees toppled over, but they didn’t cause any damage.”

Up in Gates County, Emergency Management Director Billy Winn said the only reportable damage occurred Wednesday night with a few downed power lines along US 13 near Eure.

“Personnel with the Eure Fire Department responded and kept the area clear for the power crews to do their work to repair the lines,” Winn said. “That was the extent of any reportable damage here in our county; I saw some trampolines and portable basketball goals toppled over due to the wind, but that was about it.

“We were extremely blessed to have dodged any major storms that impacted other areas, to include our neighbors up in Waverly, VA,” Winn added.

The storm in Waverly has been confirmed by the National Weather Service as an EF-1 tornado, packing winds of 100-110 mph. The twister, confirmed with a width of three football fields, left a nine-mile path of destruction, including striking a mobile home with three people inside. The deceased bodies of 2-year-old Ian Lewis, 26-year-old Devine Stringfield, and 50-year-old Larry Turner were found approximately 300 yards from the home, according to the Virginia State Police.

The twister also injured eight others in the Waverly area.

In Northampton County, Emergency Management Director Ronnie Storey said there were some isolated power outages due to trees falling on light lines, but noted the electricity was quickly restored.

He said the most significant damage was the roofs blew off a hog house and a farm shelter.

Other that that, he said some house lost a few shingles.

“We didn’t have as much damage as I expected looking at the radar and weather reports,” Storey said. “We were lucky. Just before the ugliest weather got to Northampton County, the storm split apart with half going to the north of us and half going to the south. We were fortunate.”

He said the most notable thing for Emergency Management happened after the tornado hit Waverly, VA.

All available fire and rescue teams in the Tidewater area of Virginia responded to the Waverly disaster and because of agreements the county has with its northern neighbors, Northampton sent fire and rescue teams to Boykins, VA in order to cover any emergencies in Southampton County, Va.

“We have made arrangements with our neighbors,” Storey said. “They help us in time of need and we help them when they need help.”

On Thursday, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory declared a State of Emergency, waiving vehicle weight and hours of service restrictions so that utility crews could restore power quickly. By 3 p.m. on Thursday nearly 21,000 customers – mostly in Forsyth, Gaston and Mecklenburg counties – were still without power, down from a peak of more than 122,000 Wednesday.

“Our first responders, emergency managers and meteorologists deserve our gratitude for keeping us informed and safe throughout the storm. Once again, our team has proven its professionalism and dedication to keeping our citizens safe,” said Governor McCrory.

While much of North Carolina escaped Wednesday’s severe weather with minimal damage, some areas north of the Triangle did sustain moderate damages. Local and state emergency managers on Thursday afternoon were surveying storm damage in Granville and Vance counties.

The National Weather Service confirms that two tornadoes touched down Wednesday afternoon in Duplin County – one near Calypso (EF 1) and another near Warsaw (EF 0 with winds between 65-85 mph). The tornadoes damaged several mobile homes as well as power poles in the area.

Preliminary Damage Assessment teams comprised of county and state officials are out combing the hardest hit areas to determine the extent and severity of property damage. Once they complete their appraisals, North Carolina Emergency Management specialists will compile the damage estimates to see which areas, if any, may qualify for further assistance from either the state or federal government.

Two thirds of North Carolina spent most of Wednesday under severe storm warnings and tornado watches. There have been unconfirmed reports of tornadoes in Cumberland, Durham, Granville, Vance and Wayne counties. National Weather Service meteorologists met Thursday with local officials to determine where tornadoes actually touched down. While there were numerous reports of downed trees and power lines across much of the state, most of the damage was relatively minor. There were reports of over-wash on N.C. Highway 12 along the Outer Banks.

Emergency management officials had no reports of serious storm-related injuries or fatalities.

“Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are, by their very nature, unpredictable,” said Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry. “It’s impossible to know when or where they may strike; which makes it all the more important for our citizens to ‘stay alert, so they don’t get hurt.’ As we begin the traditional severe storm and tornado season, I encourage everyone to pay close attention to the weather.”

More information on tornadoes and overall emergency preparedness can be found in the ReadyNC mobile app and online at www.ReadyNC.org.