Thursday brought a sunny day for cleaning up downed trees and damaged buildings left in the wake of thunderstorms that brought high winds, heavy rain and repeated reports of funnel clouds to the Triangle on Wednesday afternoon.
Wednesday’s thunderstorms left pockets of downed trees and power lines throughout the Triangle. By 7 p.m. Thursday, Duke Energy had restored power to all but a couple hundred Triangle customers in Orange, Durham and Wake counties.
The National Weather Service issued 21 tornado warnings on Wednesday, based on doppler radar information, but surveys on Thursday indicated that most of the damage was caused by straight-line winds.
The weather service confirmed that a tornado touched down Huntsboro Road northeast of Oxford in Granville County and traveled 5 miles into Vance County, destroying several outbuildings and cars and damaging seven homes. Another tornado briefly touched down in northern Durham County, in a densely forested area near Hillandale and Rose of Sharon roads, and two others were confirmed in Duplin County.
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Statewide, there were no reports of deaths or serious injuries as a result of the storm, according to the governor’s office.
Ryan Speed, 22, a paramedic who lives south of Kittrell in Vance County, watched from his front porch as a funnel cloud reached down from the sky about a mile away. “And after a few minutes it looked like it stretched down all the way to the ground,” Speed said. The twister was moving through a wooded area, and it wasn’t clear whether it caused much damage, he said.
The storms caused scattered power outages across North Carolina. At 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, when the last thunderstorm warning expired in the Triangle, Duke Energy reported nearly 96,000 customers without power throughout the state.
The storms were expected. Wake and Durham schools dismissed students three hours early to avoid sending them out into dangerous weather. In Johnston County, where most students were already slated for an early release day, students were sent home at noon.
The Chatham and Orange county school systems held off on dismissing students from school, and ended up keeping some students late while the storms came through. Orange County buses were still dropping students off at home in the evening.
In Lee County, students originally had been scheduled for a half day on Wednesday, but it was converted to a whole day to make up for hours lost because of recent winter weather. After holding a full day of classes, some schools released 10 to 15 minutes early, allowing car-riders to leave – just in time for them to be on the road when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning that included Sanford.
Students who ride buses home were told to stay in place until the risk of dangerous weather had passed. Buses did not begin their routes until 5:15 p.m.
Altogether, about four dozen public school systems and three universities – UNC Wilmington, Fayetteville State and East Carolina – dismissed early Wednesday, according to Gov. Pat McCrory’s office, which urged people to pay attention to the forecast. Tornado warnings caused sirens to activate at UNC, Duke and N.C. State universities, sending students and workers inside to seek shelter.
Staff writers Ron Gallagher, Richard Stradling, Bruce Siceloff and Anne Blythe contributed to this article.