Local News

Early March IS Like a Lion

Posted March 6, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— The month of March seems to be up to her usual tricks. She gives us just a touch of balmy weather, and then suddenly shows us that the adage "March comes in like a lion" has its basis in centuries of experience. Last night the lion roared through North Carolina.

Porch furniture was blown over to the neighbors' house, branches dropped from trees, and the wind howled enough to make the family dog snuggle just a bit closer for reassurance. In some areas, power lines were downed.

Heavy rain and winds between 40 mph and 60 mph moved across North Carolina starting in the mountains about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and moving across the sounds in the southeastern part of the state later in the night.

Possible tornados were reported in Surry, Stokes and Rockingham counties, but none had been confirmed as of 1 a.m. Dime-sized hail was reported Wednesday in Winston-Salem.

The storm had far more serious consequences for two people. In Winston-Salem, a woman died when a pine tree blew over and fell on her minivan at about 5:45 p.m. as she was taking her son home from soccer practice.

Janice Irwin Messier, 45, was pronounced dead at the scene, police Lt. Louis Saunders said. Her 12-year-old son, Kyle, was in stable condition Wednesday night at North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Saunders said

Robert Ray Watkins, 75, of Stoneville died after he swerved off state road 1360 to avoid a tree that had blown over in the storm and hit a utility pole, according to the Highway Patrol. That accident occurred at 6:30 p.m. just north of Stoneville in Rockingham County.

Wind caught a corner of the Four Brothers store just east of U.S. 52 in Pinnacle and tipped the roof and the front and side walls to the opposite side of the store. Most of the items inside remained upright. Paul Johnson, who walked into the store as the wind started blowing the building apart, suffered minor injuries.

"I could hear the tin flying off the roof," said clerk Tim Branch. "Then the whole thing just started to turn. We all jumped on the floor. There wasn't enough time to get scared."

Two gasoline pumps at the Pleasant Hill Grocery in Northampton County ignited after they were uprooted by high winds. It took more than 20 firefighters and 30 minutes to put out the fire, Glenn Anderson, chief of the Pleasant Hill volunteer fire department, said.

Duke Power reported 46,716 outages from as far west as Hickory and as far north as Mt. Airy. More than 28,000 customers were still without power at 10 p.m., Duke Power spokesman Bob Lawrence said. The company hoped to have most of the power restored by this morning.

WRAL-TV5 Weather Center meteorologist Mike Maze said two fast-moving cold fronts are dominant in the state's weather. The first, which just passed through, will bring 25 mph winds today, with gusts even higher, so the temperature will feel colder, possibly feeling as if it were in the 30s.

Maze said a cold northwest flow of air will arrive tonight, again dropping temperatures. He expects overnight lows to drop to 20s or 30s, and advises that tender plants be brought indoors if possible, or covered for the night.

Some years ago, there was a popular song whose lyrics began, "March comes in like a lion, a-whippin' up the water in the bay." The song moves through April and May, finally getting to its hearty title, "June is Bustin' Out All Over." So if March has been a little fierce so far, just remember it is the price we pay for May and June.