NWS forecasters recognized a severe weather threat on Tuesday, May 27 and issued a Severe Weather
Outlook at 11:26 AM. Soon after, thunderstorms began to intensify. The strongest storm in the area
began to rotate as it entered western Pender county and interacted with a low-level boundary. WFO
Wilmington meteorologists were monitoring the storm closely on 88-D Doppler radar, and noted the
strong mid-level rotation as it began to lower toward the ground. A tornado warning was issued for
Pender county at 2:26 PM.
The first storm report came into the office at 2:37 PM. Pender county 911 operators were on the phone with someone who was observing a tornado on the ground from Horse Branch Road. From that point on, we received several reports of snapped trees and downed power lines.
The storm continued east-northeast across Pender county at around 30 mph, and weakened as it moved into Onlow county.
A NWS storm survey team was dispatched around 3:30 PM. The first area of damage we came upon was on Penderlea Highway about 4 miles west of Watha. Numerous large pine trees (up to 16 inches in diameter) were snapped off about 40 feet off the ground. Damage patterns at this location indicated that there was in fact a tornadic rotation on the ground. Based on the type of damage observed, winds were estimated to be up to 70 mph (F0).
The initial touchdown was brief, but the storm continued to track east over Watha and produce significant wind damage along the way. The roof of a barn was blown off and strewn up to 100 yards. In addition, numerous trees were uprooted and a brick chimney was toppled. Near Highway 117 about 3 miles east of Watha, an eyewitness reported seeing a funnel cloud hovering just off the ground as the storm approached. Just after the storm passed this location, the tornado touched down once again, snapping numerous pine trees as large as 2 feet in diameter. Once again, the touchdown was brief, and damage was estimated as F0. The tornado lifted as the storm moved over swampland, but funnel clouds were reported 3 miles west of Maple Hill. Around 3:00 PM, a tornado reportedly crossed a blueberry field, but apparently caused no significant damage.
An approximate storm track was put together by the NWS survey team. It should be noted that the storm moved across the entire county, but F0 damage was spotty and did not occur along the entire length of the track. Also, some damage is likely to have occurred further up and downstream of the western-most and eastern-most points on this map.