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Stubborn storms threaten July 4 events

The daily drumbeat of severe thunderstorms and flash flooding has washed out roads and caused thousands of power outages in the Carolinas, but now the bad weather is threatening an American icon – Independence Day celebrations.

Stormy weather and the possibility of flooding are in the forecast for several days, and organizers of holiday events say they are preparing in case nature’s fireworks interrupt the man-made shows.

At risk are dozens of fireworks displays, parades and festivals – to say nothing of smaller family and neighborhood outdoor get-togethers.

“We’re hoping the weather begins settling down by Thursday,” says Moira Quinn of Charlotte Center City Partners, which is helping organize the Novant Health July 4th Spectacular in the uptown area. “But we always have back-up plans.”

The Carolinas are locked between strengthening high pressure over Bermuda and a strong upper-level low pressure system centered in the Ohio River valley. The Bermuda high is typical in summer, but the upper-level low is much stronger than usual.

“Together, those systems are bringing a strong southerly flow of very moist air into the region,” says Rodney Hinson, of the National Weather Service’s office in Greer, S.C. “Add in the occasional weak disturbances moving through the area, and you get very unsettled weather.”

The pattern produced flash flooding Friday night in parts of Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Lincoln counties. Sunday evening, Stanly, Anson, Richmond and Montgomery counties were hit by thunderstorms and heavy rain that washed out roads and knocked down trees and power lines.

More than 7.3 inches of rain fell in June at Charlotte Douglas International Airport – more than twice the average total for the month. But some locations in the Charlotte region received 10 inches or more during the month.

Hinson says computer models indicate the area most at risk of severe storms and flooding Tuesday will be from Charlotte eastward.

“On Wednesday, the computer models show the entire area involved,” Hinson says. “By Thursday, it pushes a little farther westward, to the mountains and foothills.

“It’s a pattern that just won’t change much over the next few days.”

Kannapolis will host an Independence Day celebration Tuesday night, featuring the Charlotte Symphony and a fireworks display. City spokeswoman Ann Gibson says officials are well aware of the forecast.

“We’ve already had three or four concerts canceled this year because of the weather,” Gibson says.

She says the city’s fire department works closely with park and recreation officials on watching the weather and making last-minute changes. She says rescheduling a major event like the Charlotte Symphony and a fireworks display is complicated.

“But if the weather is threatening, we will call it off,” she says. “We would work hard with the Symphony in an effort to reschedule.”

Quinn says Charlotte’s uptown fireworks display has been pushed back 30 to 45 minutes in past years, to accommodate a passing thunderstorm.

“I’m not sure how late we can go, but we have some flexibility,” she says. “Safety is the prime issue for us. We are most concerned about the people who are there to enjoy the event.

“We also consider the quality of the show. Low clouds and fireworks are not a good mix.”

If storms approach, crowds gathered at Memorial Stadium can take shelter under the stands or at the nearby Grady Cole Center.

If storms cause postponements of fireworks events, there could be good news for the weekend.

Brad Panovich, chief meteorologist at WCNC-TV, the Observer’s news partner, says indications are that the Bermuda high pressure system will take control of Carolinas weather by Saturday and Sunday. That would not eliminate the chance for storms but would decrease the possibility to the 30-percent range, which is typical of Carolinas summer weather.

“The problem is we have a long week of rain and storms to go before we get there,” Panovich says.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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