Storms make their mark

Published 12:57 am Saturday, June 25, 2011

A toppled tree rests on the ground Friday afternoon at the home of Ashley Woolard off Market Street Extension north of Washington. A line of severe storms destroyed trees and damaged buildings across a wide swath of Beaufort County Thursday evening. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

A line of severe storms caused minor to moderate damage to 34 structures in Beaufort County Thursday evening, said John Pack, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

None of the damaged structures were homes, Pack said.

“The majority of the damage was to outbuildings and barns,” he explained.

The storms also knocked out power to approximately 5,000 county residents and downed enough trees to temporarily close 37 secondary roads, according to Pack.

The roads had been reopened by 10:30 p.m. Thursday, he said.

Power had been restored to all of the affected customers by 11 p.m. Thursday, Pack reported.

The storm damage began in the Cherry Run Road area and continued through the Acre Station, Terra Ceia, Pantego and Pungo communities.

Pack and National Weather Service meteorologists believe the localized damage was caused by straight-line winds gusting from 60 mph to 70 mph, with a possible, isolated burst in excess of 75 mph.

Winds were much lighter in Washington, where a weather-monitoring station at Warren Field Airport recorded a peak gust of 23 mph.

There were no confirmed reports of tornadoes.

The storms began rolling through the county near dusk – and rolling turned out to be the operative word.

People who heard the storms approaching said the billowing clouds were accompanied by a roaring sound like a jet engine or rolling thunder, perhaps a combination of wind and thunder.

A Washington Daily News reporter saw rain being blown ahead of the leading edge of one of the storms as it moved near Belhaven-Pantego.

There were no injuries to people as a result of the bad weather, but hailstones reportedly killed two chickens, Pack related.

“It was an amazing wind event,” he said. “I heard descriptions from people, all kinds of descriptions.”

Pack credited county volunteer firefighters, electric-utility crews and workers with the N.C. Department of Transportation for clearing blocked roads.

Some of the fallen trees sawed in pieces by these crews were 3 feet in diameter, he said.

Among the residents whose property was affected was Ashley Woolard, who lives off Market Street Extension north of Washington.

Woolard and his family were away from home when the winds ripped through. The gusts mowed down several trees in the front yard of the old home place where the Woolards reside, and tree damage extended from the family’s land for at least a mile or two south.

“When I pulled in my driveway I was just shocked,” said Woolard. “I’ve lived there through several hurricanes and never had any damage like that.”

A neighbor’s home took hits to its vinyl siding, he added.

“I had no idea it was that bad,” said Woolard, who had seen the rough weather push through from a distance.

Woolard’s immediate family has lived at the rural site for about nine years, and the property has been in his family for around a century.

After the event, neighbors turned out to help, he said. One of the helpers used a front-end loader to clean out the Woolards’ driveway.

The property’s trees are among its charms, Woolard pointed out.

“I hate to lose them, but luckily nobody got hurt,” he said.

The storms brought much needed rain, but didn’t come close to breaking the back of the deepening drought.

“It helped, but it hasn’t got us out of trouble,” said Gaylon Ambrose, an extension agent with the Cooperative Extension service in Beaufort County.

Thursday’s downpours were heavy, but short in duration. Ambrose had heard reports of as little as two-tenths of an inch of rain.

Many fields in the county haven’t seen significant rainfall since April, Ambrose said.

The drought “has really taken its toll on corn,” and could affect soybeans planted following a good wheat harvest, he added.

“The ground is just so terribly dry,” Ambrose said.