Thousands without power after high-speed storms thrash NC

A ferocious line of thunderstorms raced through central North Carolina on Thursday, uprooting trees and snapping power lines with straight-line wind gusts up to 70 mph.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A ferocious line of thunderstorms raced through central North Carolina on Thursday, uprooting trees and snapping power lines with straight-line wind gusts up to 70 mph.

More than 150,000 people in central North Carolina were without power after the storms, including about 73,000 in Wake County as of 10 p.m., 23,000 in Johnston County and 19,000 in Moore County, according to Duke Energy Progress.

In Raleigh, trees and limbs came crashing down in the Hillsborough Street and Five Points areas – one large shade tree even toppled onto the patio of NOFO at the Pig restaurant on Fairview Road.

A pine tree smashed through the roof of Kelly Kopp's home off Wake Forest Road, damaging her master closet and bathroom. No one was injured.

"It's pretty much a humongous tree, laying diagonally over my house," she said, adding that she had a tree expert out about six months ago, who advised her not to cut it down.

"It survived hurricane after hurricane. You know, it's not coming down unless a tornado hits directly," Kopp said. "Lo and behold, it came down."

Katie Rogers narrowly escaped injury when a tree toppled onto her car on Glenwood Avenue.

"I heard this really loud noise. I saw a flash of light, and then I saw the tree coming from the corner of my eye," she said. "I just heard the loud noise when it hit my car."

The tree brought down a power pole, but Rogers was able to get out of the car safely.

In Cary, a 200-year-old oak tree smashed into a house on West Park Street downtown, while strong winds pushed over a tall pine, leaving it precariously cradled by power lines along Davis Drive.

Police closed Davis Drive between Hogans Valley Way and Caviston Way while utility crews worked to repair the damage. 

Conner Sutton and Niklas Ehlin described loud, "crazy" winds in nearby Preston Village, where uprooted and snapped trees dotted the streets.

"I was just amazed," Sutton said. "We knew it was loud and all that, but we didn't know something could happen like that."

"It was pure chaos. There were things knocked over everywhere," Ehlin said. 

Minimal property damage was reported, authorities said.

Cleanup efforts in Chapel Hill began immediately after trees and limbs fell to the ground in the university town.

"Run, run, run, run, it's like we're just running in circles," said Warren Edwards with the town's public works department. "It's all over the town here, everywhere. We're doing our best to get it cleared."

A large tree upended onto West Franklin Street, blocking two lanes and disrupting traffic. Al Green saw the tree come down.

"It got dark out here. I came outside, looked over to the right and then I saw that tree falling – just up and left," he said. 

The tree had not been cleared as of 11 p.m.

In western Wake County, the fast-moving storm blew debris and broke trees in two.

"It sounded like whistling, and it was really loud," said Kristine Whipple, who lives in the Arbor Creek neighborhood in Holly Springs. "I walked outside and all the trees were bent ... I got whipped by a bunch of leaves and came running back inside."

The Old Stage Road corridor was one of the hardest-hit parts of the county. A huge downed tree blocked the road near Woodlawn Drive for several hours. 

Fayetteville got hit with a triple whammy of severe storms, but no widespread or significant damage was reported.

Severe weather spanned from the Carolinas up to the mid-Atlantic, causing major headaches at Raleigh-Durham International Airport Thursday. Inbound flights from Atlanta, LaGuardia, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Baltimore, Cleveland and Orlando were all delayed.

Problems are expected to continue into Friday morning. RDU officials suggest checking with airlines before coming to the airport for early morning flights.

 10 p.m. – New severe thunderstorm warnings have been issued for Cumberland and Sampson counties until 11 p.m.
9 p.m. – A third round of severe thunderstorm warnings has been issued for Cumberland, Moore and Hoke counties until 9:30 p.m.
8:45 p.m.  Updated numbers from Duke Energy Progress show 73,321 customers without power in Wake County. Johnston County has 23,500 customers without power.
8 p.m. – WRAL News photographer Greg Hutchinson shot and edited this timelapse video of the storm moving through Brier Creek in Raleigh.
7:40 p.m. – A huge tree crashed through the roof of a house in the 1400 block of Wake Forest Road in Raleigh. 
7:30 p.m. – A road obstruction on Interstate 40 West at Gorman Street is causing traffic backups up to 1.5 miles.
7:25 p.m. – Raeford, Fayetteville and Cumberland County are in line for a second punch as a vigorous thunderstorm cell in Moore County races toward the east at 45 mph, said WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze. 

That storm could whip up winds in excess of 70 mph.

7:15 p.m. – Severe thunderstorm warnings have been issued for Cumberland, Hoke, Wayne and Sampson counties until 8:15 p.m.

Wake Technical Community College has canceled evening classes at Main Campus and Northern Wake Campus due to power outages. 

7:10 p.m. – “The damage reports just continue to fly in from the National Weather Service,” said WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel. “Just too many to mention at this time.”
7 p.m. – The North Carolina State Highway Patrol said it is working too many vehicle accidents to count at this time. It added that Interstate 95 South, just north of Rocky Mount, is a trouble spot for fallen trees. 
6:55 p.m. – Franklin County Sheriff Jerry Jones said there are trees down "as far as I can see" in Louisburg.

Franklinton was also hard-hit and a house fire in White Level is believed to have been caused by a lightning strike, he said.

"Everything is calm here now," Jones said. "We're in recovery mode."

6:45 p.m. –  WRAL viewer Natalie Brickell sent in this photo of a huge tree that crashed onto the patio of NOFO at the Pig restaurant in the Five Points neighborhood of Raleigh. 
A huge tree crashed onto the patio of NOFO at the Pig restaurant in the Five Points neighborhood of Raleigh. Photo courtesy of Natalie Brickell
6:25 p.m. – Winds are picking up in Fayetteville, Rocky Mount and Tarboro, ahead of heavy rains that are dumping on Wake and Johnston counties. Goldsboro should see increased wind speeds in the next half hour or so, Fishel said. 

"The most dangerous part of this system is before the heavy rain begins to move in," he said.

The storm's track puts strong wind gusts in downtown Fayetteville in the coming minutes, if not already. 

6:20 p.m. – More than 27,000 customers are without power in Wake County, including 13,000 in Raleigh, according to updated numbers from Duke Energy Progress.
6:15 p.m. – A town spokeswoman said Cary has widespread damage and power outages. The worst areas are near the intersections of Highway 55 and Carpenter Fire Station Road and Davis Drive and High House Road. 

More than 4,500 people are without power there.

The strongest part of the storms are now over Smithfield, but the worst is over for Durham, Chapel Hill and Roxboro, meteorologists said.

6:10 p.m. – Here are the latest power outage numbers from Duke Energy Progress: 9,242 customers affected in Lee County, 7,721 in Durham County and 3,018 in Orange County.

More than 2,000 customers lost power in Morrisville, as well as about 1,100 in north Raleigh and 1,400 in southern Wake County.

6 p.m. – Heavy rains and strong wind gusts have moved into downtown Raleigh.

A cold front moving in behind the storm system has caused a 30-degree temperature spread across the WRAL viewing area. Temperatures in Roxboro at 6 p.m. were in the mid 60s, while, in Fayetteville, temperatures were still sweltering in the mid 90s.

5:50 p.m. – Police are responding to several downed trees and limbs that are blocking roadways in and around downtown Chapel Hill. They are asking drivers and pedestrians to stay off the roads. 

More than 7,000 Duke Energy Progress customers in Durham alone have lost power, the utility said.

Orange County is no longer under a severe weather threat, according to the National Weather Service.

5:40 p.m. – Watch storms roll into the area on the WRAL Tower Cam and from atop PNC Plaza in Raleigh.

Severe thunderstorm warnings issued for Harnett and Lee counties until 6:45 p.m. Alerts for Chatham and Wake counties were extended until 6:45 p.m.

5:37 p.m. – WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said storms are expected to get more menacing in the next few hours, but should clear out of the area by 8 p.m.

The severe thunderstorm warning for Person County has been canceled.

5:30 p.m. – Severe thunderstorm warning issued for Moore County until 6:45 p.m.
5:20 p.m. – WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel warns that viewers should take these severe thunderstorm warnings very seriously.

"Severe thunderstorm warning doesn’t sound as bad as tornado warning. But there are cases where severe thunderstorms have whipped up winds in excess of 100 mph," he said. "You need to take them just as seriously as a tornado warning. Don’t put your guard down."

5:15 p.m.  – Here's a glance at a traffic camera from U.S. Highway 15/501 at Hillsborough Road in Durham, which shows ominous clouds moving into the area.
Traffic - US 15-501 & Hillsborough Rd.
5 p.m. – The National Weather Service and WRAL viewers are beginning to report widespread storm damage in the Statesville, Winston-Salem and Mebane areas. The storm toppled trees and snapped power lines in Forsyth County, leaving 48,000 people without power.
Severe thunderstorm warnings issued for Durham, Franklin, Wake, Warren, Halifax and Nash counties until 6 p.m.
4:30 p.m. – Severe thunderstorms warnings have been issued for Granville, Vance, Orange, Person and Chatham counties until 6 p.m., while all 100 North Carolina counties remain under a severe storm warning or watch.


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