Archived Story

Reporter Jon Rowe’s eyewitness account of tornado: A little too close for comfort

Published 8:20pm Saturday, April 26, 2014

On Friday evening, as I was heading home to Blounts Creek, I stopped at Hess in Chocowinity to put oil in my truck and rent a Redbox movie. The sky was already dark in the distance, but it seemed no different than a normal eastern North Carolina spring storm. Boy, was I wrong.

I noticed a group of people congregating by the entrance of the Hess, including the attendant. I walked over toward Burger King and as I cleared the gas station canopy and looked to the sky, there was a tornado forming. It touched down just behind the former WITN 7 building and the car wash.

The power went out completely and it was pitch dark. The group at the gas station was yelling for everyone to seek refuge in Hess. To be honest, several thoughts went through my mind — and call me a big baby — but the first thing I thought about was my mother and if I would ever see her, my family, or anyone again.

Well, with the help of God, of course, I made that decision really fast— I was going to see them again. No question. The second thing I thought about was my truck, which I was reluctant to part with.

I ran to my truck, hopped in and whipped around onto Highway 17. I was searching for clear skies and wherever I found them, I was going to head that way.

As I was going down the main drag in Chocowinity, the two tornadoes were converging toward Bragaw Lane and Highway 17 bypass. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was, more or less, trading places with the bigger tornado because when I reached Choco Mart at the main intersection, it was in ruins from where the tornado had passed through the town.

I hung a left at the light and I started going down Highway 33. As I passed Chocowinity Recreational Complex, my truck started rattling back and forth. Once I reached the overpass, there were cars, trucks and an 18-wheeler stopped on the highway. I looked to my left and there it was, an enormous tornado no more than 100 yards from me.

I have never seen something so amazing or felt something so powerful in my entire life. Sadly, I did not get any live photos because I was more concerned about my truck and my safety. I continued down 33 and eventually stopped about 3 miles past Mike’s Mini Mart. I started flagging vehicles down, warning them not to proceed toward Chocowinity.

As I was flagging cars down, I saw something that, previously, I had only heard about. My grandpa used to tell me that if I ever saw a line in the sky that I should get away as fast as possible because it meant that a tornado was imminent.

There was a white line across the sky, which looked like a blank rainbow. The sky was as black as night and soon I noticed that another series of dark clouds was fast approaching the vicinity.

I looked above the trees back toward where I had come from and it looked as if World War III had commenced. There were bright flashes of red, blue and white light — I’m assuming that transformers were blowing up in addition to the lightning from the storm system.

I’m not going to lie, I thought about going back, but I came to the conclusion that I had been blessed enough to escape once, and I might not have been so lucky a second time. The experience was nerve-wracking, needless to say, but all in all, it was a little too close for comfort.

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