Gov. Cooper surveys damage from powerful storms that spawned at least one NC tornado

Gov. Roy Cooper tours storm damage in Hillsborough, NC

Gov. Roy Cooper spoke to Bob Jackson, the herd manager at Maple View Farm in Hillsborough, which was sustained damages in a storm April 19. Gov. Cooper toured the area on April 20.
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Gov. Roy Cooper spoke to Bob Jackson, the herd manager at Maple View Farm in Hillsborough, which was sustained damages in a storm April 19. Gov. Cooper toured the area on April 20.

The powerful storms that swept across North Carolina on Friday spawned at least one confirmed tornado that touched down outside Siler City, and another possible twister that ripped through the Maple View Farm outside Hillsborough, prompting a Saturday visit from Gov. Roy Cooper.

The National Weather Service confirmed Saturday a tornado had touched down in northwest Chatham County, damaging trees, power lines and rooftops.

The tornado was classified as EF-1, meaning winds reach speeds as high as 110 mph. No major injuries were reported from the storm. The National Weather Service said it issued 31 warnings for tornadoes and 17 more for severe thunderstorms.

Severe weather toppled trees surrounding the house of Rep. Graig Meyer in the White Cross community near Chapel Hill, NC Friday afternoon, April 19, 2019. Amazingly, no trees hit the house, but the family couldn't make it off their property.

Elsewhere in North Carolina, the National Weather Service said an EF-0 tornado, or a tornado causing light damage, hit Gaston County Friday afternoon and traveled northeast into Lincoln County, The Charlotte Observer reported. An additional tornado also touched down in Alexander County, the Observer reported.

In Orange County, Cooper toured the Hillsborough farm where roughly 350 cows provide milk for its butter pecan, double chocolate and various other flavors of ice cream. The storm tore across the farm and its neighboring agriculture center, seriously damaging two barns and wounding a cow.

“This is an iconic place that everyone knows about,” Cooper said. “I think everyone is just glad the ice cream was spared.”

Cooper said it was remarkable that no one was hurt and that the decisions made Friday by officials and meteorologists, as far as warning residents and closing schools early, were good ones.

“We have to respect the weather,” Cooper said. “We have to take steps to make sure people don’t get hurt.

“All in all, people feel relieved and are grateful that things worked well,” Cooper said.

VIDEO: If your area is under a tornado warning, then you may only have a few minutes to get to safety. Here are the actions you should take during a tornado.

Bob Jackson, herd manager at Maple View Farm in Hillsborough, shows Gov. Roy Cooper damage from Friday’s storm, which damaged two barns and wounded a cow. Josh Shaffer

Roger Nutter, one of the farm’s owners, showed the governor a barn where several cows were calving in pens Friday when the storm ripped off the roof and tossed it into a pile 100 feet away.

“This barn here is right over there now,” Nutter said. The wounded cow, described as badly hurt, was found wrapped up in wire.

Herd manager Bob Jackson showed Cooper how he hid inside a small room with plywood walls while the storm tore the siding off two sides of another barn.

“I heard the wind and I took cover,” he said. “I didn’t want to see it.”

Twisted metal and broken wood lay strewn across the farm Saturday. Jackson said insurance will likely cover most of the damage, but he felt amazed more animals weren’t hurt. He and Nutter said 25 to 30 volunteers arrived Saturday morning to help with cleanup.

Gov. Roy Cooper tours Maple View Farm in Hillsborough, which was seriously damaged in Friday’s storm. Cooper told staff at the dairy farm, “Everyone is just glad the ice cream was spared.” Josh Shaffer

Orange County Emergency Management Coordinator Kirby Saunders said residents reported damage in 22 places, most of them along a line heading northeast across the county. Many of them were damaged by trees, but only one unoccupied home was destroyed.

Meteorologists at ABC11 were waiting on word from the weather service Saturday on whether tornadoes were confirmed elsewhere. ABC11 meteorologist Don “Big Weather” Schwenneker said spotters reported six twisters in the area Friday night.

The Triangle had not faced such a severe weather risk in three years, Schwenneker said.

“It was an extremely unusual day,” he said Saturday.

Homes along Old 86, south of Interstate 40 in Orange County, showed rooftops torn off and timber strewn across yards.

High winds damaged this house south of Hillsborough, N.C. near the intersection of I-40 and Old 86 Highway Friday afternoon, April 19, 2019. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

In Raleigh, the train and paddle boats at Pullen Park will not operate Saturday because of fallen trees across the park, according to the city.

A house on Old 86 just south of I-40 near Hillsborough, NC was destroyed by a storm on Friday afternoon, April 19, 2019. The house was unoccupied and no injuries have been reported.

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Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.