Tornadoes confirmed in Robeson, Wayne Counties
Posted February 20
Updated February 21
Raleigh, N.C. — A line of strong thunderstorms raced through central and eastern North Carolina on Friday, spawning at least three tornadoes and leaving minor damage in its wake.
The National Weather Service confirmed that two EF0 tornadoes touched down in Robeson County - one near Pembroke and the other in St. Pauls. A designation of EF0 is based on a survey of damage and means the storm packed wind gusts of 65 to 85 mph.
A third tornado touched down Friday in Wayne County, according to the National Weather Service. The survey revealed that an EF-1 tornado touched down around 1:25 p.m. and damaged an office trailer in Grantham. Nearby trees were uplifted and tossed on to a nearby tree canopy.
Severe thunderstorm watches and warnings were issued for a number of central counties, but only Robeson, Wayne, Johnston and Sampson counties were under tornado warnings during the afternoon.
In Robeson County, authorities investigated reports of downed trees and power lines in the area of Townsend, Pate and Pittman streets. There were also reports of wind damage to carports, roofs and sheds.
"My whole yard is a mess," Dolores Robles said, surveying the remnants of a metal shed that ripped apart, leaving her belongings strewn about her backyard in St. Pauls.
"I'm glad I wasn't home. I'm glad my neighbors' little kids wasn't home because they can get scared," she said.
Nearby, winds pushed over a large recreational vehicle owned by Darlene Wilkes and her husband.
"It was very upsetting when we saw what happened," she said. "We just got to camp in it one time. It's brand new."
In Vance County, a canopy at a Henderson Exxon gas station was blown over and trees had to be cleared from four streets.
In Cumberland County, the storm was to blame for a power surge that damaged the electrical system at a store in Cross Creek Mall in Fayetteville.
Fayetteville police said about 100 shoppers were evacuated from Belk's shortly before 1 p.m. after the fire alarm activated. Investigators determined the power surge zapped the HVAC system on the roof, and the smell of burning wires seeped through the air vents. No one was hurt.
"Most folks saw those strong winds right at the leading edge of these storms," WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said. "Heavy rain fell in most spots, but it didn't last all that long."
Watches and warnings expired throughout the afternoon as the storms swept off the coast. Blue skies even peeked out after 4 p.m.
Temperatures dropped quickly behind the cold front responsible for the storms, falling as much as 15 degrees within an hour behind the rain.
Ahead of the line, some places were in the mid-70s, about 20 degrees above normal for late February.
A calmer weather pattern will set up shop across the area on Friday night, and sunshine will be the dominant feature of the forecast for the weekend.