‘Gustnado’ blamed for storm damage

Published 9:33 pm Monday, July 2, 2012

The roof of Warren Field Airport was ripped from the walls and turned upside down during Sunday’s powerful thunderstorm that killed three people in Beaufort and Pitt counties. (WDN Photo/Sara Cowell)

Sunday’s storm system left three people dead, scores injured and widespread wind damage in eastern North Carolina.
Beaufort County officials report David Harris, 61, and his wife, Carol, 58, were killed when a tree fell on their golf cart near Blounts Creek. They were from Pitt County, but had a second home on Gilead Shores Road.
William Henry Adams, 77, a Pitt County resident, was killed when a shed fell on him as he was trying to store an ATV.
At least 50 homes were left with moderate to severe damage. To help those whose homes were damaged, a “cooling shelter” opened at 2 p.m. Monday at P.S. Jones Middle School. The shelter is for people whose homes were damaged by the storm and have nowhere to go to escape high temperatures.


  • Check out our photos of the storm damage from July 1 in our photo gallery here.

“We’re going to keep it open until we get a better handle on who needs what, where and when,” John Pack, Beaufort County emergency-management director, said.
At one point Sunday, all Beaufort County fire departments, their assets and EMS units had responded, according to Pack.
Pack said eight mobile homes were destroyed, with 10 homes sustaining major damage and at least 40 other homes sustaining minor to moderate damage.
Of the approximately 40 people in Beaufort County injured or whose existing illnesses escalated as a result of the storm, only two were hospitalized, Pack said. The rest were treated and released, he said.
“The hospitals did a great job,” Pack said.
On Monday, the National Weather Service was investigating whether a tornado caused damage at Washington’s Warren Field Airport and nearby areas Sunday evening. According to NWS meteorologists, most of the damage in Beaufort County was caused by straight-line sustained winds up to 80 mph.
Springdale Village, a mobile-home park near the airport, sustained severe damage.
NWS meteorologists said they noticed on radar a small cell rotating near the airport, where NWS personnel inspected damage to determine if that damage and damage at nearby areas were caused by a tornado.
Monday afternoon, Robert Frederick, a meteorologist with the NWS office in Newport, said the investigators believe a “gustnado” caused the damage at the airport and nearby areas.
“The most significant damage definitely was around the airport area. From what they could tell by talking to the people who there and witnessed everything, it sounds like something called a gustnado — it’s not a typical true tornado. It’s kind of a swerving wind that develops on the outflow of a severe storm. It kind of has the appearance and sometimes the circulation similar to a tornado, but it’s not directly attached to the parent thunderstorm cloud. We often get these along the leading edges of severe storms. That’s probably, sounds like, what it was. Everybody says it happened before the main rain got there and was ahead of the storm. A tornado is usually embedded behind a storm,” Frederick said. “It definitely was on the leading edge, which makes us believe it was a gustnado.”
Pack said two hangars at the airport suffered severe damage, the airport terminal suffered major damage and seven planes stored in hangars had been damaged.
After first receiving calls about power outages, other storm-related calls began coming in, Pack said.
“Then we immediately starting getting the calls into 911 of traffic accidents, fires. Most of those fires were transformers or electrical fires that caught brush or other things on fire as a result of the high winds. Even though there was a significant amount of rain with it, when the winds get that high, once that stuff starts getting on the ground, it’s still going to take off,” Pack said.
Downed power lines slowed or halted traffic for some time, Pack said.
“At its height, every major U.S. and North Carolina primary road was blocked coming into or out of Beaufort County,” Pack said. “That was within one hour of the storm’s arrival.”
“We haven’t got a good handle yet, but it appears there were 300 to 500 cars damaged by the storm,” Pack said.
Monday, city and county inspectors were examining damaged structures, condemning some of them or pulling electric meters until further inspections can be done to the structures, Pack said.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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