Rare tornado hits North Carolina

Tornado spotted in Rutherford County, North Carolina tornado via WLOS-TV Asheville

It was not an ice storm that caused damage in parts of North Carolina yesterday (January 11, 2012). In fact, it was not heavy snow or strong winds from a cold front pushing east. Instead, it was an extremely rare tornado the formed ahead of deepening area of low pressure. The apparent tornado struck parts of Rutherford and Burke County in North Carolina. At least ten injuries were reported from this tornado, but fortunately, no one was seriously injured or killed. The National Weather Service will survey the damage this afternoon to determine the rating of the tornado that pushed through these areas.

GOES water vapor image showing the upper level low around South and North Carolina. Image Credit: College of DuPage

A tornado developed from a surface low pushing to the northeast. It is part of the very same system that will finally end the “spring-like” weather across a large portion of the United States. Warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico spread to the north ahead of the low pressure system. Meanwhile, the upper level low created enough wind shear and spin to the atmosphere to help develop a tornado Wednesday afternoon. It is extremely rare to see tornadoes in the month of January for parts of western North Carolina.

According to Dr. Greg Forbes from the Weather Channel,

“Rutherford County has had 7 reported tornadoes from 1950-2011, but all were between May and October. The Burke County NC has had 6 reported tornadoes from 1950-2011, with all from April through September.”

In fact, when I looked over the data provided by the National Climatic Data Center, almost all of the tornadoes that occurred in these counties were in the month of May.

History of reported tornadoes in Burke and Rutherford Counties in North Carolina since April 1950. Image Credit: NCDC
Radar image showing the possible tornado in Burke County, North Carolina. Image on the left shows the reflectivity, while the image on the right shows the velocity image.

The tornado hit an area near Ellenboro on Piney Mountain Church Road and Dycus Road in Rutherford County. There were reports of homes blown off their foundations and people being trapped in the debris. At least 30 homes were damaged and nearly 1,000 residents were out of power. Schools in Burke County, North Carolina have delayed classes this morning by two hours. Emergency crews have set up at the Ellenboro Fire Department and there is also a shelter set up at Salem United Methodist Church. In Burke County, the cities of Icard and Hildebrand were hit hardest. Some homes were reported to be destroyed, and many residents were urged to go to George Hildebrand Elementary School if they needed shelter in the overnight hours.

Damage in Burke County, North Carolina. Image Credit: Casey Jordan Shell and Joey Mosteller

Bottom line: A strong area of low pressure created a tornado that pushed through Burke and Rutherford counties in North Carolina. This is the first time a tornado has hit these areas in the month of January, making it extremely rare. Dozens of people were reported hurt, but fortunately, there have not been any casualties. The National Weather Service will survey the damage on January 12, 2012 to determine what hit the neighborhood and rate the strength of the tornado.

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January 12, 2012

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Matt Daniel

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