By Kristin Zachary
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Violent storms that uprooted trees and killed three Pitt County residents in July are a reminder even smaller weather events can wreak havoc, experts said on Tuesday.
Stressing preparation for an active storm season, John Cole, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport, told about a dozen people at a town hall meeting on severe weather hosted by East Carolina University that residents should remember lessons from past events.
A sudden burst of storms on July 1, spawned by three days of extreme heat and humidity, produced 80 mph winds, caused power outages for more than 15,000 people and caught residents unaware.
Pitt, Beaufort and surrounding counties were hammered by what is known as a derecho, Cole said. The name comes from the Spanish term for “straight,” as the storms generally blow in one direction.
“We lost three people with this severe thunderstorm event, one in Pitt County and two in Beaufort,” he said. “People were making last-minute preparations — putting their ATVs away, getting off the golf course.”
In Grimesland, 77-year-old William Henry Adams was killed about 4:30 p.m. when strong winds caused a farm building he was in to collapse as he was parking a four-wheeler to protect it from the storm.
Ten minutes later, two Greenville-area residents were killed in Beaufort County when a tree fell on the golf cart they were driving. James Harris, 61, and Carol Harris, 58, had been on a pontoon boat with friends and returned to the dock to drive back when the storm approached.
“The structural damage from a storm like that, it’s like a tornado,” Cole said. It was one of the strongest, most widespread weather events locally since the Newport/Morehead City office opened in 1995.
Residents had about a 30-minute warning, but winds that uproot trees and collapse structures “can occur well in advance of those rains and thunderstorms,” he said.
The weather service hopes to be more proactive, even with low-probability events and to continue improvements to the warning system, he said.
Weather service forecasts are “one of the biggest assets” for ECU, according to Tom Pohlman, environmental and emergency manager for the university.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration designates ECU as one of 133 StormReady universities in the country, Pohlman said, because it disseminates warnings using several methods, maintains weather radios in high-risk buildings and has formal weather preparations.
In the event of sudden, severe weather, it is key “to issue the proper warning very quickly, and we’ve made some changes here at ECU to do that,” he said. The university issues alerts by email, text, indoor and outdoor speakers, as well as its website, Facebook and Twitter pages.
More preparation can be made in the event of forecasted weather, such as winter storms and hurricanes, Pohlman said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday released predictions for the June 1 to November hurricane season, calling for 13 to 20 named Atlantic storms, seven to 11 that strengthen into hurricanes and three to six that become major hurricanes.
“Everything is coming into play this year for an active hurricane season,” Cole said. “We’ve been very lucky this year. We haven’t had a lot of severe weather, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed, but we still have a lot of time to go.
“June tends to be very active for severe weather, and right into the summer months as well, especially for straight-line wind events,” he said. “… We can definitely get the big storms, and this year is projected to be very active out in the Atlantic hurricane basin.
“We have to be ready every year,” Cole said. “You can’t let your guard down any time.”
Contact Kristin Zachary at firstname.lastname@example.org and 252-329-9566. Follow her on Twitter @kzacharygdr.
via The Daily Reflector.