Tornadoes confirmed in Robeson, Wayne Counties

Posted February 20
Updated February 21

— 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.


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  • bluecharger Feb 20, 5:45 p.m.

    So exactly where is this expanded wind threat coming from? The NWS is still saying up to 30-mph gusts. I'm not arguing the possibility, this is one of the first things I look for after a week like this in central NC. I want to know if this is what models are showing, or if the Weather Center is just looking back at how this usually goes and covering their bases. Everything about this system, from the time of day it's expected to sweep through to the assertion that we're only getting a "glancing blow" from it mitigates somewhat the expected ferocity of what comes through. I grant you no cold front comes without "assumed risks" like the odd tornado here and there that could never be predicted, but why the sudden ramp-up in estimates? Science or ratings?

  • t0rnadochaser Feb 20, 7:12 p.m.

    The problem is today's convection was forecasted by the gurus to rapidly congeal into a solid N/S squall line and that hasn't happened and may not even occur overnight? Not good as tornado potential is higher than thought with isolated cells. 9AM-1pm storms in eastern NC Friday; storm mode still uncertain. Conditions ARE favorable for updraft rotation albeit instability is less than robust.

  • t0rnadochaser Feb 20, 7:17 p.m.

    To Bluecharger: The main thing that should save NC tomorrow is the (strong) upper level center of low pressure will be in southeastern Canada instead of Kentucky or Ohio, which would cause a more direct threat to us with a stronger, much closer surface low (plus mis level jet streak proximity) - that's what leads to your tornado outbreaks in spring.

  • so you dont like my opinion ok Feb 21, 10:05 a.m.

    Batten down the hatches, put the brollies away and get out your wellie boots, its nearly here!!

  • URADA Feb 21, 10:10 a.m.

    Interesting how the storms are going to go around Lee county. Past Lee county above and below but not in. Great!

  • jcarroll51 Feb 21, 10:20 a.m.

    On the Storm Alerts map, the color key doesn't match the colors on the map. I assume that the purple in the color key refers to the red on the map but there's nothing in the text about a tornado warning here in Durham. If warnings are to be taken seriously, they have to be clear.

  • davido Feb 21, 10:26 a.m.

    OK, but any update on the risk of a sharknado?

  • norainonmyparade Feb 21, 10:51 a.m.

    On the Storm Alerts map, the color key doesn't match the colors on the map. I assume that the... View More

    — Posted by jcarroll51

    I see RED areas on the map, and the legend states RED is for Tornado WATCH. A tornado watch is in effect for Durham, Wake, and others.

  • bluecharger Feb 21, 11:37 a.m. insistent breeze, rushing grey clouds, a couple moments of rain.

  • bluecharger Feb 21, 11:59 a.m.

    woohoo! Actually just heard thunder.....over 20 minutes after it started raining!