Pender County, North Carolina Tornado Assessment

- Friday August 13, 2004 -

 

Steve Pfaff, Senior Forecaster

National Weather Service – Wilmington, NC

 

 

Overview of Event:                During the early morning hours of Friday August 13, 2004 the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Bonnie tracked along a stalled frontal boundary across the eastern Carolinas.  The air mass was very unstable and subsequently, thunderstorms were easily able to develop as Bonnie passed by the area.  There was sufficient shear in the atmosphere that tornadic thunderstorms were a possibility.

 

                                                At 410 AM EDT, the National Weather Service Office in Wilmington, North Carolina issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for damaging winds in excess of 60 mph for Pender County valid until 445 AM EDT.  The storms that moved across Pender County were moving northeast at 30 mph and developed a tornado just south of Rocky Point that ultimately caused the extreme damage in the small communities along Highway 210 just east of Highway 40 and Rocky Point.

 

Assessment Overview:          Senior Forecaster Steven Pfaff conducted the storm damage survey for the communities surrounding Rocky Point to determine the cause, intensity, timing and duration of the event.  It should be noted that were it not for the dedicated efforts and professionalism of Pender County government officials and emergency responders that a detailed survey would not have been possible.  Special thanks are in order for Rocky Point Volunteer Fireman Steve McFadden who spent the entire morning and part of the afternoon assisting Steve Pfaff with the assessment.  Special thanks also for EMC Eddie King, Sheriff Carson Smith, and County Commissioner Dwight Strickland for their support.

 

                                                Steve Pfaff and Steve McFadden  completed an extensive survey in which they identified the initial touchdown area, the path and magnitude of the tornado.

 

Damage Overview:                The damage caused by the tornado was very extensive, especially in the small community located along/near Highway 210 (just east of I-40).  The following summarizes the amount of damage (no monetary loss was available at the time this document was created):

 

                                                3 fatalities (2 adults, 1 child)

                                                29 injured

                                                5 homes demolished

                                                25 homes damaged

 

Tornado Details:                    Approximately 410-415 AM EDT

The tornado initially touched down near West Strawberry Lane just off of Highway 117 south of Rocky Point where f0* damage was observed (70 mph).  In particular two structures, including a large maintenance shed had roof damage.  The tornado’s track was also visible as it crossed I-40.  There was tree damage where it emerged onto I-40 and where it moved back into the forest on the north bound side of the interstate. The tornado then tracked across the Martin Marietta Access Road, which parallels the north  bound side where it produced f0-f1* type tree damage (70-75 mph) that blocked a large segment of the road.  The path damage was less than 100 yards in this area.

 

                                                The tornado then tracked across what appeared to be an abandoned work sight just off of Martin Marietta Access Road approximately 1 mile south of Highway 210.  There were some overturned trailers in the work sight area, along with additional tree damage.  The path damage was approximately 100-300 yards in this area with speeds estimated to be 70-75 mph (f0-f1*).

 

                                                 Approximately 415-420 AM EDT

                                                It was estimated that the tornado intensified to f1-f2* with speeds up to 130 mph as it moved across the small community along Highway 210 or just northeast of the worksite off Martin Marietta Access Road.  There was significant structural damage noted along the no-outlet roads of Clayton Lane, Nixon Avenue and Pickett Road.  In one instance at the end of Clayton Lane a trailer home was completely destroyed and it took about 1 hour to find a 2 year old baby (found alive).  In this area the tornado moved between several houses sparing complete destruction.  There was classic evidence of converging wind damaged seen clearly, even at ground level.  The path damage in this area was hard to tell with the woods in the vicinity but was approximated to be around 300 yards and it was estimated to be 105-115 mph strength.

 

                                                Approximately 420-425 AM EDT

                                                The tornado reached its peak intensity as it moved across the Cart Wheel Road area where a few homes were obliterated.  There were three fatalities in this area.  In addition, a sofa was noted at the top of a large tree and one home was lifted onto a parked car.  There was also a flipped car. The tree destruction and complete destruction of double wide homes and trailers indicated a potent f2* with speeds estimated around 130 mph.  The path damage was widest in this location and is estimated to be up to one half mile, with the strongest winds confined to 300 yards or less.  It was estimated that the strongest winds lasted 5 to 10 minutes in this area.

 

                                                Approximately 425-430 AM EDT

                                                The tornado crossed Highway 210 just east of Cart Wheel Road and caused additional structural and tree damage.  One additional mobile home was completely destroyed on the south side of Highway 210.  The debris from this home was carried onto and near Highway 210.  It was estimated that the tornado at this point was still an f2* but speeds a little lower (around 115 mph) and the damage width reduced to one quarter mile or less.

 

                                                Approximately 430-435 AM EDT

The tornado continued to track northeast (north of Highway 210), but remained just south of Invershield Road.  The tree damage south of Invershield road indicated f1* damage with speeds around 80 mph.  This area is predominantly forest, thus cause little structural damage.  The damage swath was estimated have become smaller with a width of 300 yards or less.

 

Approximately 435-445 AM EDT

The tornado continued on its fast northeast motion and crossed the Northeast Cape Fear River and finally dissipated near Shaw Highway approximately one mile north of Highway 210.  There was relatively minor roof damage near Shaw Highway along with some tree damage.  The damage was indicative of f0* tornado damage with an estimated damage width of less than 300 yards (hard to give a confident estimate given the lack of accessibility to that part of the county).

 

 

Specific Tornado Info:           Track Distance (on the ground):            5 miles

Time (on the ground):                            35 minutes

Peak Intensity:                                      130 mph (f2*)

Time as an f0-f1*:                                 20 minutes

Time as an f1-f2*:                                 15 minutes

 

 

Map of Survey Area and Tornado Track:

 

 

 

 

*The Fujita Scale of wind speeds, as originally developed by Fujita (1971).

 

f0   40-72 mph

f1   73-112 mph

f2   113-157 mph

f3   158-206 mph

f4   207-260 mph

f5   261-318 mph

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures of the Damage:

 

Picture 1:  Demolished mobile home off Clayton Lane

 

Picture 2: Porch damage off Clayton Lane

Picture 3:  Volunteer firefighters after conducting a search through the damage along                       Highway 210.

 

Picture 4: House rolled onto parked car on Cart Wheel Road.

 

 

Picture 5:  Uprooted tree on Cart Wheel Rd.

 

Picture 6: Foundation of a destroyed double wide.  Another house foundation can be seen to the right of the excavator.  This is off of Cart Wheel Rd.

Picture 7: Couch and other debris in a large tree off Cart Wheel Rd.

 

Picture 8: Governor Easley talks to Pender County Sheriff Carson Smith and other Pender County officials.