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Tornado reported in Hillsborough; power outages around the Triangle

Storm topples trees, spares house of Rep. Graig Meyer

Severe weather toppled trees surrounding the house of Rep. Graig Meyer in the White Cross community near Chapel Hill, NC Friday afternoon, April 19, 2019. Amazingly, no trees hit the house, but the family couldn't make it off their property.
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Severe weather toppled trees surrounding the house of Rep. Graig Meyer in the White Cross community near Chapel Hill, NC Friday afternoon, April 19, 2019. Amazingly, no trees hit the house, but the family couldn't make it off their property.

A tornado was reported near Hillsborough on Friday afternoon by the National Weather Service, as a band of severe thunderstorms crossed the region.

Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, tornado warnings were issued throughout North Carolina, including Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough, according to the National Weather Service. Shortly after 5 p.m., a tornado was reported near Hillsborough, according to the National Weather Service. A radar-indicated tornado in central Harnett County was reported by the National Weather Service.

By 7:30 p.m. on Friday, all tornado watches in the Triangle had been canceled, the National Weather Service said.

UNC-Chapel Hill, which urged everyone on campus to take shelter at the height of the storm, later sent out an “all-clear” message. NC State also issued a warning to its students about 5:15 p.m.

A house on Old 86 just south of I-40 near Hillsborough, NC was destroyed by a storm on Friday afternoon, April 19, 2019. The house was unoccupied and no injuries have been reported.

Additional tornado warnings were issued for Durham, Granville, Johnston, Orange and Person counties until 5:45 p.m., the National Weather Service said.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has received reports of damage due to fallen trees, according to a spokesman.

In Hillsborough, Walmart customers said they were taken to the store’s break room during the height of the storm

Sheila Riley and her mother Linday Rileywere in the break room with other customers for more than an hour as the tornado passed by.

“I’ve never been in the middle of that before; I’ve never heard a sound like that, but it wasn’t like a train,” Sheila Riley said. One woman appeared to be suffering a panic attack, they said, and struggled to breathe.

The Hillsborough tornado appeared to touch down near exit 261 on Interstate 40, destroying a vacant home and shearing trees and power lines. A transformer was tossed in a rain-filled ditch, next to a white wicker chair and other indiscriminate debris gathered up by the storm.

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood said his office received a call for a damaged home around 4:30 p.m. He said the path of the tornado seemed to be around 75 to 100 feet wide, localized on a quarter-mile stretch of old NC 86 just steps from the interstate.

Gerald Scarlett snapped photos of his aunt’s home from the road, the roof caved in by the tornado.

“I worked on the house hundreds of times,” Scarlett said.

His aunt, Louise Scarlett, had passed away last year after suffering a stroke, he said. The house had been vacant since, looked after by neighbors who had lived in the Hillsborough community for generations.

Raymond Williams was in his home off old NC 86 when the storm passed over.

“I saw the tornado, I passed right over my house,” Williams said. “It was a straight line.”

Duke Energy reported more than 11,000 customers around the Triangle were without power as of 7:30 p.m. on Friday, including 6,500 in Wake County.

Duke Energy spokesman said the power outages were mostly “vegetation related” — downed trees and limbs, though there were a few poles down, too.

Power already was restored “tens of thousands” of households across the state, he said.

“Crews are actively working and have been all day,” he said. “This is typical of a severe spring storm.” Across the Carolinas, about 65,000 customers were without power on Friday evening.

While a watch means tornadoes are possible in an area, warnings indicate twisters have been observed, according to the National Weather Service. When tornado warnings are issued, people should take action to protect themselves, the service says.

Storms moving eastward are expected to linger in the Triangle until 10 p.m., the National Weather Service says. The eastern part of the state could see impacts until midnight, according to forecasters.

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An unoccupied home on Old 86 just south of I-40 near Hillsborough, NC, was damaged by severe weather on Friday afternoon, April 19, 2019. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

High winds are predicted into the evening for “areas along and east of U.S. 1,” according to the Raleigh office of the NWS. Forecasters predict there could be power outages and some damage to trees and buildings.

In the Raleigh area, more showers are predicted overnight, according to the forecast.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools closed two hours early Friday because of the predicted storms, the district said on Twitter.

The announcement came after weather risks were upgraded to show the likelihood of widespread severe storms, the first alert of its kind for central North Carolina since 2016, the weather service says.

Rain is expected to clear by daytime Saturday, when conditions will be “mostly sunny” with a high temperature of 64 degrees, the forecast says.

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Simone Jasper is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer and real-time news in the Carolinas.


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