Storms moving through North Carolina on Wednesday brought heavy rain, damaging winds, lightning and at least one confirmed tornado.
The National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va., confirmed at about 4:47 p.m. that a tornado touched down in eastern Yadkin County.
As the storm systems moved further into the state, conditions worsened throughout the day.
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Wednesday morning, the NWS rated the chance of severe weather a 2, or “slight” chance, but by afternoon, it upgraded its prediction to a 3 or “enhanced” chance of severe weather. A 5 or “high” chance of severe weather is the NWS’s top rating.
Power outages began cropping up early Wednesday evening, with more than 1,200 customers without power in Durham near Duke University. Duke Energy was assessing the damage and it was unclear when power would be restored as of 7 p.m.
The flood watch should expire late Wednesday night, but the threat of severe weather could linger through the Memorial Day weekend, forecasters said.
The Raleigh-Durham International Airport said on social media Wednesday afternoon that people should expect brief delays as the storm passes and that ramp crews do not work outdoors when lightning is near.
On Wednesday, a warm front was expected to move north through central parts of the state as a cold front moves into the Piedmont from the west, the NWS forecast said. The two fronts will bring scattered thunderstorms with them, starting in the afternoon and continuing through the evening.
The primary risk associated with the storm systems was hail larger than one inch in diameter, damaging wind gusts more than 60 mph and possible tornadoes, according to the weather service.
Yadkin County tornado
Curtis Baity, 77, lives in the house he grew up in across the street and about 300 yards from Courtney Elementary School in Yadkin County. Baity was away from home when his sister called and said a tornado touchdown had been reported in the area and was moving toward the house.
Shortly after, he heard the school had been hit.
“That’s when I got scared,” Baity said. “But I was lucky. A few shingles were ruffled off and two trees were down in the yard.”
Photos from The Winston-Salem Journal showed severe damage to the Courtney Elementary School gym.
The storm reportedly touched down in the southern part of the county around 4:15 p.m. and was blamed for ripping a large section off the roof of the school’s gym. School had let out and no one there was immediately reported injured. The area is about 25 miles west of Winston-Salem.
But Baity said he had heard of at least one injury, a neighbor of his on a nearby street.
“A friend called a few minutes ago and said her mother’s house over there got destroyed, and she was in it,” Baity said. The friend said the woman had been taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, but he did not know the extent of her injuries. A hospital spokesman could not confirm the report.
At another neighbor’s property, he said, “They had a shelter with a truck and a tractor under it. The truck and the tractor were still sitting there, but the shelter was gone.”
Baity said with all the trees in his yard and the saturation level of the ground from recent rains, “I expected it to be a whole lot worse. You never know when it’s going to happen to you,”
Sampson County tornado
Sampson County spokesman Richard Carr said multiple structures were damaged after a tornado touched down there Tuesday.
The NWS confirmed that an EF-1 tornado, with estimated winds between 105 and 110 mph, hit the town of Autryville and the Bearskin community east of Fayetteville. The tornado caused property damage. A state of emergency was declared in Autryville Tuesday. A nightly curfew was in effect from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. until further notice.
Holiday weekend forecast
Small hail could accompany most thunderstorms on Thursday and the most intense storms will be capable of producing large hail up to the size of golf balls, forecasters said.
On Friday and Saturday skies will be sunny and temperatures will hover in the 80s and severe weather is not expected. A chance of showers and thunderstorms is possible on Sunday through Monday night.
On Sunday and Monday, temperatures are expected to rise near 90, and the chance for showers and thunderstorms will be back in the forecast.