Raleigh, N.C. — WHAT: An "incredible" wind shield was moving its way into central North Carolina Wednesday evening in a storm system that could spawn isolated tornadoes. Much of central North Carolina is under a tornado watch. Winds gusted up to 50 mph Wednesday afternoon and could get even stronger inside any storms that form throughout the evening and into Thursday.
WHEN: The strongest part of the storm was expected in the Triangle between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m., moving from west to east.
WHERE: All of central North Carolina is at risk for severe weather Wednesday night. WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said the impact of the system is likely in a tight line that will move across central North Carolina from west to east.
Two deaths – one in Tennessee and another in Georgia – were blamed on the same storm system.
Wednesday evening, 8:20 p.m. update: The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch across much of central North Carolina, including Wake and Durham counties, until 2 a.m.
Wind is to blame for downed power lines in Johnston County that closed N.C. Highway 231 in both directions east of Clayton around 8:15 p.m. Lanes are expected to reopen around 9:20 p.m.
Wednesday evening, 7 p.m. update: A WRAL viewer sent in video of powerful wind gusts from atop what appears to be a television tower.
The gusts were strong enough to bring a tree crashing down in Wake County, near New Light Road and Harper's Ridge Court. No one was injured, but a car was damaged.
The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for parts of western North Carolina, including Charlotte, and a severe thunderstorm watch farther north, including in Boone and Danville, Va.
"We fully expect additional watches will be issued this evening, to include most, if not all, of our viewing area," said WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel.
Wednesday evening, 5:30 p.m. update: High winds Wednesday afternoon blew down tents at Duke University's Krzyzewskiville, where students camp out to claim tickets to the popular basketball game against Tobacco Road rival UNC.
The rules of Krzyzewskiville – which require that someone be with each tent at all times – were suspended in advance of the coming storm so that students could seek the safety of their dorm rooms. Students camp out for weeks to secure a place inside Cameron Indoor Arena when the Tar Heels visit. This year's game is Feb. 13.
A winter storm packing strong winds knocked down trees and brought down power lines in Asheville Wednesday afternoon, leaving some residents without power.
As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, Duke Energy reported more than 3,800 customers without power in Henderson County, More than 3,325 customers were in the dark in Swain County and another 1,556 were without electricity in Cherokee County.
As the storm moved out of Georgia and into upstate South Carolina it weakened a bit and was showing fewer lightning strikes.
"It's possible we could see a stray shower this evening, but it's more likely that we see a straight line of storms that passes through our area between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.," Maze said.
Wednesday afternoon, 3:45 p.m. update: A storm system being blamed for two deaths in Tennessee and Georgia should arrive in the Triangle about midnight, Fishel said.
“The most dangerous part of the system is still several hours away from us,” he said. “The main line may not actually get here until an hour either side of midnight. In the meantime, winds without thunderstorms can gust as high as 45 mph.”
Residents should prepare for the possibility of damaging winds by securing anything that could blow away, including deck furniture, outdoor chimes and bird feeders.
The biggest threat from the oncoming storm will be straight-line winds, Fishel said. These are winds that descended swiftly down from a storm cloud. Although they are often mistaken for tornadoes because of the damage they can cause, straight-line winds have no rotation.
Strong winds may have brought down a tree in Durham on Wednesday afternoon. Hope Valley Road in Durham was closed between Devon Road and Surrey Green Lane because the fallen tree pulled down power lines, Durham police said. The road was expected to be closed until at least 5 p.m.
Nearly all of North Carolina’s 100 counties are under a wind advisory alert, including Wake, Cumberland, Durham, Johnston, Orange and Nash. The advisory is in effect until 4 a.m. for the central portion of the state.
Once the line of storms passes, the temperature will be noticeably different, Fishel said.
Temperatures will be incredibly mild until midnight,” he said. “It will be in the 70s this afternoon, the 60s through the evening, then drop down overnight into the low 40s by sunrise.”
Highs will remain in the 40s on Thursday for the region.
“That represents almost a 30-degree difference from today until tomorrow,” Fishel said.
Wednesday afternoon, 1:50 p.m. update: The massive storm system raking the Southeast is blamed for two deaths. One in Tennessee where a man took shelter in a shed only to see it collapse around him and the other a body found amid storm damage in Georgia.
There were reports that people were trapped in homes and businesses, and television footage showed large sections of a sprawling manufacturing plant had been destroyed.
Footage also showed a funnel cloud roaring through the downtown area of Adairsville, about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta, flipping cars and demolishing a home. Interstate 75 was closed in both directions after the storm flipped cars onto their roofs and tossed them onto the grassy shoulder.
At least two tornadoes were confirmed and several more suspected, and conditions remained ripe for more. Since Tuesday, the system had caused damage across a swath from Missouri to Georgia.
Wednesday afternoon, 12:30 p.m. update: Conditions ripe for strong to severe weather continue to develop in central North Carolina as a powerful cold front creeps closer to the area.
"Our atmosphere is getting more unstable as we go through the day," WRAL Meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said. "We have a steady flow of moisture coming into the area, and that will continue this afternoon."
A huge line of storms now stretches from Pennsylvania to the Florida panhandle, and several areas had seen severe weather early Wednesday. In Adairsville, Ga., officials reported a tornado about 11:15 a.m. Other spots in Georgia and Alabama have seen damage as the storms continue to march eastward, with hundreds of counties in both states under tornado watches.
Rain and storms will reach the North Carolina mountains early Wednesday afternoon, advancing through the state and eventually reaching the Triangle sometime after the evening commute. Light rain showers were falling in spots across the region at lunchtime, and temperatures were nearing 70 degrees.
"We could see those spotty showers at any point the rest of the day," Gardner said. "It's looking like our best chance for any severe weather will come between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. Thursday."
Wednesday morning, 10 a.m. update: Gusty winds arrived in the Triangle Wednesday morning ahead of a powerful cold front that could whip up strong to severe thunderstorms and isolated tornadoes after the evening commute, Gardner said.
The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for most central North Carolina counties, including Wake, Durham and Orange, from noon Wednesday to 4 a.m. Thursday.
Winds could gust up to 45 or 50 mph during the day, and could be even higher inside any thunderstorms that form late Wednesday and early Thursday.
"We could see tree limbs come down in abundance today, and that could lead to some spotty power outages," Gardner said.
Moisture will stream into the central part of the state later in the day, and with temperatures in the mid-70s for the second day in a row, conditions will be ripe for strong thunderstorms.
A line of thunderstorms associated with the front was stretching from Illinois to Louisiana early Wednesday, and several towns in Missouri and Arkansas saw damage late Tuesday from straight-line winds and possible tornadoes.In Tennessee, a man died after a large tree was blown down on a shed were he was sheltering, police said.
Most of North Carolina is an under an elevated risk of severe weather through early Thursday morning.
"We could see a spotty shower during the day at any point, but we're really going to have to watch things this evening and tonight," Gardner said. "Chances will pick up during the evening and we could see storms until after midnight."
Winds will steadily taper off during the morning Thursday, but gusts could still reach 15 to 30 mph as the front moves off the coast.
Clearing behind the front will allow cool air to filter back into the area for the latter half of the work week and weekend.
Highs will top out near 50 degrees Thursday before falling back into the 40s on Friday and Saturday under mostly sunny skies, and overnight lows will return to the low 30s and even upper 20s.