Local News

Raleigh residents remember tornado 27 years ago

Posted November 21, 2008
Updated November 28

— An overnight tornado killed four people and injured 157 as it tore north from Raleigh through Wake, Franklin, Nash, Halifax, Northampton and Hertford counties on Nov. 28, 1988.

The twister reached a maximum intensity of F4 in northwest Raleigh, where two children were killed. More than 100 people were injured.

Tornadoes usually form during heavy thunderstorms when warm, moist air collides with cold air. The storms can also produce large hail and strong winds.

"All that weekend, the National Severe Storm Center was keeping an eye on the eastern part of the country for the possibility of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. When nothing happened on Saturday and Sunday, the general thinking was ... if it hasn't happened yet, it is not going to happen," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

So when the twister touched down, just after 1 a.m. on a Monday near Umstead State Park and Ebenezer Church Road, no severe thunderstorm or tornado watches or warnings had been issued for Wake County.

WRAL News anchor Charlie Gaddy went live that night from the Glenwood Avenue Kmart, which the twister had leveled.

"The Townridge Shopping Center is built in a V or an L (shape) and half of it is gone. That means that the Kmart has been demolished and several business adjacent to it,” Gaddy said during his first report from the scene.

The Pridgen family lived behind the Kmart.

"If you walked in, we had a roof in (one) room and behind it a pile of bricks from the chimney. The room we were in was the room that was saved, and so none of us were hurt," Cheryl Pridgen said.

Chuck Liles lived in the Hampton Oaks subdivision, where two children died in the tornado. He said he yelled for his family that night.

"It's like an explosion or implosion of your house. [My wife] grabbed Lauren and I grabbed Phil, and I threw them down in the hall and grabbed hold of the door jambs and the next thing I know – boom," he said.

Despite the lack of warning, most people were able to safely take cover that night.

"The only good thing that I remember that came out of that tornado was that it was one o'clock in the morning and most people were asleep, but when they heard that sound – the train sound – they knew what to do," Fishel said.

The tornado damaged or destroyed nearly 2,500 homes and over 75 businesses.

"The devastation of this thing was incredible," Gaddy recalled during an 2003 interview.

The tornado remained on the ground for 84 miles as it raced northeast at 50 mph through northeastern Wake, southern Franklin, northwestern Nash, central Halifax, Northampton, and northern Hertford counties.

Two people died in northwestern Nash County when the tornado destroyed a mobile home.

The twister, which dissipated after crossing Interstate 95 in Halifax County, caused an estimated $77 million in damage.

WRAL News produced a documentary about the twister shortly after it hit. You can watch that video along with other WRAL reports as the 27th anniversary of the tornado approaches.

We would also like you to share your stories and photos about the Tornado of '88.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • TPanther775 Nov 27, 2008

    I remember this tornado. At the time I was 13. What was wierd is that 4 years later in 1992 same time of year. Warm and humid on a Sunday afternoon and then at 2:20 am an F3 tornado roared through Hillsborough and killed 2. Northern and Western parts of Hillsborough were destroyed. The funnel before it touched down passed over my parents home at the time. That was one eerie feeling because everything got quiet and still seconds before it passed over. I am friends with a guy that lived through that tornado. He describes the same thing as all the victims of the Raleigh tornado went through. I just feel for those people because when something like that happens you never ever forget.

  • defabz Nov 27, 2008

    I lived in West Raleigh, and I remember a strange swirling wind blowing through the stairwell of our apartment complex. I commented on the 'tornado' feeling, but did not think anything more of it. The next day my co-worker and good friend did not show up for work, and I learned that his house had been demolished. One of the houses on his street was picked up off the foundation and set in the middle of the road! My friend was fortunate. His wife was traveling on business, and he did not sleep in their bed - which was flattened beneath a huge tree. I cannot believe it has already been 20 years.

  • westoflyra Nov 26, 2008

    I was in Rocky Mount when it happened. My sister was living in Henderson. On one of the roads between Rocky Mount and Henderson, I could see pieces of metal in the trees in the distance. Seeing that took me back to the tornado outbreak of March 1984 when the West Mount section of Rocky Mount had been hit.

  • yngtaur Nov 26, 2008

    Ha..I lived in Lee Dorm too back then. I remember the fire drill as well, and being p.o'd because I had just fallen asleep and the alarm went off (which wasn't unusual in Lee Hall). I remember standing outside, and it was unusually windy, and the sky was kind of creepy with lightning flashes in the distance. I thought nothing about it and went back to bed after the alarm was over. It wasn't til I woke up the next morning and saw that my roommate had the news channel on that I realized what had happened.

  • waytogo Nov 26, 2008

    I was a freshman at State. I lived in Lee Dorm and we had two fire drills shortly before the storm. While we were waiting for the signal to go back inside everyone wasw commenting on how weird it looked outside. The sky was red. We didn't know that there was a tornado until my Mother called the next morning to see if we were ok.

  • kbo0801 Nov 26, 2008

    I was not here in 88 but, that looked very devastating.

  • ProudConservative2 Nov 26, 2008

    I was 18. The tornado blew right over our house(we were located in a valley like area) and killed a young kid in the neighborhood behind ours. My dad was outside picking up tools because he heard the rain while it was all going on, but had no idea that it was a tornado until the next morning. I remember riding with my sister and her boyfriend and seeing K-mart GONE!!!! I also remember seeing a giant billboard bent at a 90 degree angle. I lived through many tornadoes in Ohio, but never remember any as bad as this one.

  • PTA mom Nov 26, 2008

    We moved to Raleigh Nov 5th of that year and were returning to our apartment (which was right behind the Kmart off Leesville Rd) late Sunday night after spending Thanksgiving with family in Indiana. Both of us remarked about how nice it was to be so warm in NC this late at night in Nov. Went to bed and woke alittle after 1:00 to use the bathroom (I was also pregnant at the time) and thought that sounds just like a tornado but then thought no tornadoes happen in the spring (at least they do in the midwest) so I went back to bed and slept the next morning when the phone rang at 6:00 with family members calling to see if we were all right. That Monday morning was supposed to be my first day of work in Raleigh and I had to call my new boss and say I don't think I can come in because the roads are blocked. I will never dismiss the roaring sound of atornado again simply because it's the wrong time of year.

  • melvinb Nov 26, 2008

    I had just returned from a weekend trip to visit relatives for Thanksgiving. Got home late, went immediately to bed, and was awakened at 6:30 the next morning with my ex-husband calling to see if I was okay. I told him I was; why shouldn't I be? He then told me a tornado had taken out the K-Mart on Glenwood Ave., and he thought he'd call and make sure I was okay before he mailed the alimony check! I live 1/4 mile from that K-Mart (as the crow flies) and slept through the whole thing. I had absolutely NO damage to my property, but electricity was out for several days. I was working with an insurance agency, and we were swamped with claims for many days. Even now, I get an eerie feeling when we have an exceptionally warm day in really cold weather. It was by far the worst natural diaster I had ever witnessed....until Hurricane Fran.

  • XLAW Nov 26, 2008

    We lived in the Sunscape Subdivision behind K Mart along what is now Millbrook Road. I woke up to radio static and heard a train coming. Then the tornado hit and beams from K Mart slammed into our roof with the force of a hot knife through butter! I rolled to the floor and called 911. 911 answered immediately and when I told the operator to call up all resources she probably thought I was a drunk. 911 was probably inundated within seconds. The heavy rains came through the various openings and the next day our ceilings collapsed. The house was condemned and the next morning we moved into Embassy Suites. We had a wonderful insurance company which took responsibility to rebuild and 4 months later we were back home. Although our car windows imploded and our house was condemned, we got through this uninjured. I can recall 1:12 am of November 28, 1988 as if it were this morning and I still get nervous when I recognize tornado weather.