Local News

Weather Service Says Downburst, Not Tornado, Caused Hillsborough Damage

Posted June 23, 1998

— Thick dark clouds rolled in Tuesday, whipping up one heck of a storm. Strong winds tore up trees and twisted power lines. At one point, more than 11,000 people were without power. Hillsborough in Orange County was the hardest hit area of the Triangle.

Denise Elkins says there's no doubt in her mind what caused all the damage. She says the rain stopped, the hail came and then she saw it-- a tornado. The National Weather Service, however, has determined that it was a downburst that caused the damage and not a tornado. A downburst, also known as straight-line winds, can cause similar damage and conditions to those of a tornado, but no funnel cloud is formed. Rather, a burst of wind travels from storm clouds straight down to the ground. The damage area of damage can be broader than that of a tornado, while the narrower path of tornado damage can extend beyond its initial point of contact.

"I guess it was right there 'cause it went up and over," Elkins explained, "and it went over that a-way and ripped that limb down (pointing), and it went straight across that a-way and ripped them trees up and them trees up, and it just freaked me out."

Trees two to three feet in diameter were splintered and ripped out of the ground in a path that cut through eastern Hillsborough. Most of that area lost power.

One of the homes damaged in the storm belonged to the Ashleys. A big tree next door fell on a part of their house they had just finished building.

"It sounded like somebody dropped a bomb on the back, just exactly what it sounded like," Ashley said. "I believe it was a small tornado."

Down the road at the Occoneechee Golf Course, three cars were flattened. It was the last thing Dennis Dickey was expecting when he hit the links.

"Well, I first saw the other car, and I said, 'oh, that's terrible,'" Dickey explained, "and then, I looked over and I said 'I hope that ain't my car up under that tree over there.'"

Unfortunately, it was his car, and it was completely destroyed. Wednesday, emergency management officials were expected to comb through the area damaged by the storm. There's no confirmation yet that storm that plowed through spawned a tornado.


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