RALEIGH — Just days after the so-called “polar vortex” froze much of the country, temperatures warmed dramatically Saturday and brought destructive, stormy weather to the Triangle.
Heavy gusts of wind – some reaching a record speed of 86 mph – caused heavy damage throughout the region. The afternoon began with tornado warnings for Wake, Orange, Durham and Chatham counties, and reports of a funnel cloud south of Carrboro.
One man in the Wakefield area of North Raleigh was seriously injured when a tree fell on him. In Raleigh, a massive oak tree fell across lanes of Glenwood Avenue near the Carolina Country Club, tying up traffic on a major north-south route through the city.
Much of an under-construction apartment complex in Brier Creek in North Raleigh toppled over in the wind and was reduced to piles of wooden wall frames and plywood. Various other types of wind- and flood-related damage were also reported across the region, including trees crashing into homes.
WTVD chief meteorologist Chris Hohmann said he couldn’t remember ever having such a dramatic shift from extreme cold to extreme storms in such a short period of time.
“There was an 80-degree feel-like difference from Tuesday to Saturday,” Hohmann said, noting that temperatures topped 70 degrees.
The 12 to 15 mile-wide cell – with major wind bursts and heavy rain – moved through the area quickly, with warnings and watches lifted a couple of hours after the chaos arrived.
“It made it from Greensboro to Rocky Mount in two hours. You can’t drive that fast. That’s as fast as you will see a storm move in this area,” Hohmann said of the front’s 50-60 mph speed. “It was a quick hitter, but it did leave its mark.”
The 86 mph gust was recorded near Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and broke the previous record by 7 mph. Most gusts didn’t approach that (Johnston County saw a gust reach 80 mph), but 74 mph marks hurricane-strength wind, and 58 mph is regarded as a threshold at which major damage can be expected, Hohmann said.
Wind caused power outages for about 29,000 Duke Energy Progress customers in Wake County, according to outage maps. Neighboring counties experienced similarly common blackouts.
Damage reports came in from around the county, though the Leesville Road and Morrisville areas took some of the heaviest blows. Elsewhere, two trees crashed through the ceilings of homes in a Cary mobile home park that backs up to the northwest side of the WakeMed Soccer Complex off Maynard Road.
No one was hurt when the trunks snapped off around 10 feet off the ground and crashed into the homes, but the residents cannot stay in the homes. Red Cross was on the scene assisting.
Initial reports on the man struck by a tree indicated that he was breathing but was unconscious when emergency services arrived and that he suffered multiple fractures. Wake EMS District Chief Jeff Hammerstein said he had been taken to WakeMed Hospital.
The flagpole on top of the Department of Revenue building in downtown Raleigh split in half with part of it dangling by a thread.
Wake Forest officials advised people to avoid several streets where winds had toppled trees and power lines.
There were also reports of flash flooding. One resident of a Wake County Housing Authority complex in Zebulon said there was flash flooding where he lives.
“We’re getting flooded out pretty bad. It’s going into some of the apartments,” Thomas Allen said of the complex at Shannon Drive and Pony Road.
All warnings were lifted by late afternoon. The weather also canceled a variety of events across the area, including the Capital Area Soccer League’s Play4Kay four-on-four soccer tournament at WRAL Soccer Center to benefit the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. It has been rescheduled for Sunday.