Storms topple trees, knock out power in Triangle

Posted January 30, 2013 8:53 p.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2013 1:43 a.m. EST

— A powerful storm system with an incredible wind shield toppled trees and knocked out power in central North Carolina Wednesday night, blasting the Triangle with a quick hit of heavy rain and some thunder and lightning before tracking east.

The fast-moving, narrow line of storms moved in and out of Raleigh in less than an hour, WRAL meteorologists said.

Wind damage was reported across Wake County and in other parts of the viewing area Wednesday evening from powerful gusts ahead of the storm system.

Much of central North Carolina was under a tornado watch throughout the night and into early Thursday morning, but WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said the radar showed no signs of rotation.

Earlier Wednesday, the massive storm system raked across Tennessee and Georgia, killing two people and decimating homes.

2 a.m. update: The National Weather Service's tornado watches for central North Carolina have expired.

1 a.m. update: The main line of storms has passed through the Triangle, tracking east at 45 mph, WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said. The Weather Center has received a report of high winds lifting a shed over a house in Johnston County, but authorities have not confirmed it.

12:45 a.m. update: The National Weather Service has issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Johnston, Sampson, Wayne and Wilson counties until 1:30 a.m. Radar showed a severe storm extending on a line from Micro to 7 miles north of Garland, moving east at 45 mph.

Winds up to 60 mph are likely.

Anyone in those areas should seek shelter.

Meanwhile, tornado watches for Wake, Granville, Hoke, Warren, Franklin, Cumberland, Harnett and Vance counties have been canceled.

Thursday morning, 12 a.m. update: The storms are bringing heavy showers and some thunder and lightning to Raleigh and areas east of the Triangle, but the threat of severe weather is petering out, Fishel said. The line of storms will have passed through Raleigh in the next 15 minutes and will be out of eastern parts of the viewing area within the hour.

Much of the storm damage reported came from powerful wind gusts before the main line of storms reached central North Carolina, Fishel said.

11:55 p.m. update: The National Weather Service has cancelled tornado watches for Durham, Orange and Lee counties as the storm system heads east. 

The number of customers without power in Raleigh has increased to nearly 3,500, according to Progress Energy. Power has been restored, however, to most customers in Garner and Roxboro.

11:20 p.m. update: The "solid, impressive-looking" line of thunderstorms has passed through Roxboro and is bearing down on Durham to the north and Raeford to the south, Fishel said. Despite how intense the storms appear on radar, there is no indication they are producing damaging winds.

That could change at any time, though, Fishel said.

"There are hurricane-force sustained winds thousands of feet above ground," he said. "At any time, there's always a chance of a downdraft reaching the ground." 

11:05 p.m. update: A brush fire in Lillington near Campbell University spread very quickly due to high winds Wednesday night, but firefighters were able to extinguish it before it reached a town home community, authorities said.

Firefighters were also called to a Knightdale neighborhood, where winds uprooted a tree and sent it crashing between two homes. The 60-foot tree took out a propane tank on its way down, creating a potentially dangerous gas leak, but no neighbors were evacuated and no injuries were reported.

One of the homes suffered very minor damage.

10:45 p.m. update: WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said the main line of thunderstorms has not yet reached the Triangle, but reports of wind damage, toppled trees and power outages are on the rise as the storm approaches. Radar is not yet showing any rotation in central North Carolina, but winds are very strong and eastern North Carolina could see tornado watches before the storm leaves the area around 2 a.m., he said.

Winds and balmy temperatures have cast an eerie shadow over the Triangle as the worst of the storm heads this way.

"If you’ve been outside, you feel how different it feels. It does not feel like January," Maze said. "The winds are blowing really strong and it’s very warm."

10:30 p.m. update: Thousands of people have lost power as strong winds whip through the area ahead of a line of strong to severe thunderstorms that could produce isolated tornadoes, hail and straight-line winds.

More than 2,200 Progress Energy customers in Raleigh, 1,800 in Garner and 300 in Roxboro were without power as of 10:30 p.m.

The National Weather Service has issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Person and Granville counties until 11:15 p.m. Radar showed a severe thunderstorm extending along a line from 8 miles northeast of Concord to 5 miles southwest of Bushy Fork, moving east at 40 mph.

Anyone in Roxboro, Bethel Hill, Surl, Oak Hill, Moriah and Berea should seek shelter. 

10:15 p.m. update: Maze said the National Weather Service is reporting that wind knocked down a dozen trees in the City of Raleigh alone in the last two hours, including a downed tree that displaced two people in downtown Raleigh.

No injuries have been reported.

Very heavy rain is moving through Orange and Caswell counties at this time as the main line of storms heads this way, Maze said.

Temperatures were still hovering around 70 degrees in the Triangle as the storm approached, but once the line moves by, the air will cool significantly.

10 p.m. update: Maze said the storm system looming in the Triangle is not producing as much cloud-to-ground lightning as expected. 

Two Eagle flights have been canceled at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which experienced delays averaging 90 minutes throughout the day due to severe weather in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York, New Jersey and Chicago.

No other flights are scheduled to depart Wednesday night. 

9:40 p.m. update: The National Weather Service has issued severe thunderstorm warnings for Orange and Chatham counties until 11 p.m. and Moore County until 10:45 p.m.

Radar showed a severe thunderstorm extending along a line from 8 miles southwest of Camp Springs to 5 miles southwest of Asheboro, heading east at 30 mph. Quarter-sized hail and winds up to 60 mph are likely. 

Another severe thunderstorm extends on a line from 6 miles west of Steeds to 6 miles southwest of White Store, tracking east at 30 mph.

Anyone in those areas should seek shelter.

9:20 p.m. update: A downed tree ruptured a natural gas line at 203 Cliffview Drive in Knightdale, police said. No one has been evacuated. 

A neighbor said the 60-foot tree fell on to a propane tank. He said firefighters told him to stay indoors and that there is a strong gas odor.

Wednesday night, 9 p.m. update: Wind gusts have toppled trees in Fayetteville and Raleigh, sending one man to the hospital. A large tree fell on a home in the Ponderosa subdivision in Fayetteville, displacing four adults and four children. The Red Cross is helping the family.

A 66-year-old man was taken to Cape Fear Valley Hospital to be treated for minor injuries.

Another tree fell on a house at 216 E. Lee St. in Raleigh, displacing two people. No one was injured, but neighbors who tried to help one of the residents, who is in a wheelchair, said they couldn't get to her due to downed power lines.

"The tree fell in her house, like in the middle of her house," neighbor Patrice Richards said. "She was in a wheelchair, so we were trying to see if we could get her out."

A first responder got both residents out safely.

8:45 p.m. update: High winds gusting up to 50 mph in the Triangle signaled the coming storm Wednesday, toppling tents at Duke University’s Kryzewskiville, downing power lines on N.C. Highway 231 east of Clayton and sending a tree crashing down in Wake County.

N.C. 231 was closed in both directions as of 8:45 p.m.

The downed tree, near New Light Road and Harper’s Ridge Court in Wake Forest, damaged a car, but no one was injured.

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.

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.