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Severe storms batter Charlotte area

Storm rumble throught uptown Charlotte
Storm rumble throught uptown Charlotte Tony Lone Fight, tlonefight@charlotteobserver.com

Powerful thunderstorms barreled across the Charlotte region Friday night, knocking out power to about 90,000 customers in the Carolinas and sending trees crashing onto several homes.

Meteorologists said late Friday evening that the storm threat had moved east of the Charlotte area.

There were no immediate reports of injuries. But the storm left nearly 47,000 Duke Energy customers in Mecklenburg County without power.

The storms rumbled into Charlotte around 8:30 p.m., accompanied by powerful wind gusts estimated at 50 mph or stronger, blinding rain, and vivid lightning.

The National Weather Service said the public reported two trees had fallen onto a house in the Plaza-Midwood area about 8:45 p.m. Another tree was reported on a house in northeast Charlotte, although authorities did not say where that happened.

Residents along Shamrock Drive reported numerous trees and large limbs blown down, blocking roads.

Emergency management officials also reported a tree on a house on Lakeside Loop in Alexander County, with a possible entrapment of a resident. And a residential entrapment was reported by Iredell County officials about 3 miles east of Union Grove, in the northern part of the county.

Late Friday evening, Duke Energy reported 46,600 customers without power in Mecklenburg County. The worst outages were in the Plaza Midwood, Paw Creek and Grier Heights neighborhoods in Charlotte.

Another 11,800 outages were reported in Gaston County, including 11,100 Duke Energy customers and 700-plus from Energy United. More than 6,300 customers were without power in Iredell County, 4,600-plus in Rowan County, and 1,300 in Lincoln County.

In Wilkes County, nearly 50 percent of the county’s 29,000 customers were in the dark at one point Friday evening.

Also hard-hit was Watauga County in the northwest mountains. More than 6,000 power outages were reported, and Watauga County Communications tweeted late Friday night that “probably thousands of trees are down.” Authorities asked residents in the mountain counties to remain at home.

The storm knocked out power at the American Legion baseball field in Belmont, interrupting a tournament game there. And PRN, the Concord-based auto racing radio network, reported the storms disrupted their broadcast of a NASCAR race being run in Kentucky.

Trish Palmer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., said that straight-line winds from severe thunderstorms can be as dangerous as tornadoes.

 

“Make no mistake,” Palmer said. “Straight-line winds can be just as deadly as tornadoes, especially when we’re talking about 70 to 80 mph winds. If a tree falls on your house or vehicle, it doesn’t matter if the wind was straight or in circles. Take shelter.”

The Weather Service said a wind gust of 87 mph was measured in a storm near Grandfather Mountain. A spotter in Alexander County reported wind gusts of near 50 mph in another storm.

Some of the damage reports, by counties:

MECKLENBURG … 46,600 power outages; two trees down on a house in Plaza-Midwood and another in northeast Charlotte; numerous trees down in Paw Creek area.

CABARRUS … Police in Concord reported 15 trees down in the city, including one on a house. Lower Rocky River Road in Huntersville also was blocked by downed trees.

GASTON … 11,800 power outages; trees down in Cherryville and Stanley.

CLEVELAND … 1-inch hail in Lawndale.

IREDELL … 7,800 power outages; trees down in Mooresville; about 20 trees down and an entrapment reported east of Union Grove.

ALEXANDER … tree on a home with a possible structural collapse, on Lakeside Loop; Sulphur Springs Road in western Alexander County closed by downed trees.

CALDWELL … trees blocking all lanes of U.S. 321 near Patterson; trees blocking N.C. 18 near Gamewell.

ROWAN … Numerous trees down across the southern part of the county.

WATAUGA … Wind gusts of more than 80 mph cause structural damage. Thousands without power, and numerous roads blocked by downed trees.

The severe storms have been triggered by a weak upper-level low pressure system sweeping from the Ohio Valley into the Carolinas. The storms have been fueled by an atmosphere made very unstable by heat and humidity. Temperatures reached the mid and upper 90s Friday in the Piedmont, including a high of 95 in Charlotte and a heat index of 101 degrees at one point in the afternoon.

Searing heat is forecast to continue Saturday, although humidity levels will be lower. Forecasters say the atmosphere will be more stable, and despite forecast highs for Charlotte near 97 degrees, no thunderstorm activity is expected. Storms are forecast to return to the area late Sunday.

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