Local News

Tornadoes Of 20 Years Ago Leave Lasting Lessons For N.C.

Posted March 28, 2004

— Sunday marked 20 years since one of the biggest and deadliest outbreaks of tornadoes struck North Carolina.

That event led to big changes in the way the state prepares for tornadoes now.

On March 28, 1984, at least 12 twisters killed 42 people. They left a path of destruction from Scotland County on the South Carolina border to Gates County on the Virginia border.

National Weather Service forecaster Rod Gonski was working that day.

"The magnitude of that had not been experienced by anybody that was living at the time," Gonski said.

Gonski said the difference in forecasting then and now is like night and day.

"There was no Doppler then," he said. "We didn't have half the reports from people on the ground. We didn't have PC computers."

Gonski said tornadoes were seen as rare in North Carolina in 1984. So, many meteorologists here did not fully understand what caused them.

Following the 1984 tornadoes, North Carolina State University was part of what was called a Tornado Consortium -- universities brought together to study the weather patterns that cause tornadoes in the southeast.

The tornadoes led North Carolina to make changes, too.

"Before 1984, there were no severe weather drills," Gonski said. "There were no proclamations for Severe Weather Awareness Week, education in the schools about tornadoes."

Gonski said now that North Carolinians know to hit the ditch or go to the basement, he hopes we do not let our guard down.

"I like them to be reminded of 1984," he said, "not because we're wishing for severe weather to occur, but simply to know that those things can happen, and we should always remain prepared."

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  • Lisa151 Mar 28, 2007

    I have lived in NC all my life, and I remember that I used to think that tornadoes only hit in "Tornado Alley". That night changed my mind forever. I am truly grateful for Greg Fishel and all of the extremely professional and caring meteorologists that WRAL has on it's staff. I rely on them always for weather coverage. Thanks for doing such a wonderful job!