State News

Storms Give Some Drought Relief, Spawn Tornadoes

Posted September 14, 2007 11:07 p.m. EDT
Updated September 15, 2007 7:59 p.m. EDT

— Rain fell with a vengeance across parched North Carolina on Friday, bringing the drought-stricken state welcome moisture but also numerous reports of funnel clouds, flash flood warnings and damage.

The storm, hatched from the remnants of Hurricane Humberto, passed from west to east across the state throughout the day.

The storms tapered off to showers overnight and moved off to the coastal areas by Saturday morning, WRAL's meteorologist Mike Moss said. Drier air was expected to break up cloud coverage over the Triangle, leaving a mostly sunny afternoon with temperatures in the mid-80s.

Most of the Triangle received between 1 and 2 inches of rain, with some areas getting up to 4 inches as stronger bands passed over them, Moss said.

Friday's rain provided some relief, but was far from what is needed to significantly help the nearly 20-inch rain deficit that has developed during the summer-long drought. The state's latest report showed 98 of the state's 100 counties experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought conditions.

Dale Crisp, director of Raleigh's Public Utilities Department, said storm rains raised the level of the Falls Lake Reservoir about 2 inches, which he called "a good start. Obviously, we hope it continues," he said.

"In general, a lot of North Carolina got some much-needed rain out of this system, and it wouldn’t hurt to repeat the process every once and while, a little more than we have here recently," Moss said. "But we’ll certainly take what we can get at this point, and hopefully, it will help out, at least in the short term."

As of Saturday afternoon, Progress Energy reported 83 customers without power, 23 of them in Wake County. All Harnett County and Johnston County customers had been restored. Duke Energy reported 78 customers were still out statewide, but only three were in the Triangle.

In Fuquay-Varina, firefighters and emergency medical workers evacuated 62 residents from the Brighton Manor Nursing Home, on Sunset Drive, on Friday night because a tree fell on the building and water got inside. Power went out during the storm, and a backup generator also failed, they said. Brighton Manor's administrator, John Jarrell, said Saturday that there were 63 residents and that the generator did kick on after a time.

"It's just terrible," said Mildred Wheeler, whose husband lives in the home. "Water's flooding the building, and you have people here on oxygen machines. It's very dangerous."

Firefighters put out a small fire in an electrical box and determined that the facility was unfit for the elderly people to stay in. No one was injured.

Vans and ambulances from Wake, Harnett and Chatham counties lined up on U.S. Highway 401 and shuttled to the home to take residents to other nursing homes in Lillington, Raleigh and Fuquay Varina. The evacuation began at 10 p.m. and was completed by 2 a.m., Brighton Manor employees said.

“Some of the patients are oxygen-dependent, and at that time, when we got the call, their oxygen supply – a portable supply – was getting low,” Fuquay Varina fire chief Tony Mauldin said.

The storm built up strength as it moved east, prompting reports of funnel clouds in the Triad and Triangle.

The weather service said six tornadoes touched down in the Triangle and one in the central part of the state, and residents reported funnel clouds and widespread damage in Wake, Johnston and Harnett counties.

In Lillington, a tornado delayed the start of a senior citizens’ dance at the Circle A Cowboy Club as wind rattled the structure and damaged the roof.

"It was just three of us in the building, and all of a sudden, the biggest downpour you ever heard, and the rain was terrific," resident Caney Bowell said. "We thought the roof was coming off the place, the noise was so loud. And it only lasted a few seconds."

Maxine Lacey witnessed the tornado while she was driving to the dance.

"It was like a small thing, whirling across the road in front of me, so I pulled over and stopped," she said. "There was all kinds of stuff flying in air around it."

Matt Brown said he saw the tornado touched down near South River Road.

"It wasn't raining, and the clouds, they came around," Brown said. "My grandmother said, 'Oh, look there'. The clouds had really started spinning again, just in a clockwise motion."

Another report said a tornado touched down at Clayton Middle School on Guy Road around 6:15 p.m. The building was not damaged, but a dance set for Friday night was canceled.

There were also multiple reports of a funnel clouds on N.C. Highway 42 about six miles west-southwest of Clayton.

In Angier, winds were strong enough to toss a paddle boat 150 yards and to blow out the window of a newborn’s nursery. The baby was not in the room at the time.

High winds also blew down power lines, which landed near gas pumps outside Stuarts Corner Store at 207 North Raleigh St. No one was hurt, but the pumps were taped up as a preventative measure.

Flash flood warnings were issued late Friday night in Johnston and Anson counties as rain pelted rock-dry ground.

High school football games across the state were delayed to Saturday because of the weather. Lightning bolts lit up the sky over Northern Nash High School's stadium before the game was postponed.

Teams were warming up for a game at Smithfield-Selma High School when a funnel cloud was sighted in the distance, sending players and spectators into the gym for shelter.

"We saw the lightning, so we cleared the field for lightning," spectator Bruce Barrett said. "Then we were up in the press box and we happened to look out the window and we saw what we saw. It actually looked like two tornadoes on the ground."