The day after a line of strong storms and tornadoes moved through eastern North Carolina was a beautiful, clear day. Having hunkered down for the storms, we decided to take a morning drive, and (of course) I had my camera with me. Never before had I seen a situation like this close up, and it was both startling and humbling to see what nature can do. With great compassion and respect for the victims of the storm — both alive and dead — I decided to chronicle some of the effects, if only as a reminder that our lives are fragile and precious, despite our attempts to protect ourselves from the environment we live in.
On Saturday, April 16 2011, a strong line of storms approached North Carolina from the west, bringing high winds, large hail, and numerous embedded tornadoes. This same storm system had already done substantial damage in the mid-west, causing a number of fatalities.
We had endured high winds all day, even though there was little rain. We battened down outside, taking special care to protect our newly enlarged garden (see “More Hay“) by stacking courses of hay bales, covering fragile plants, and parking the truck just upwind. It seemed to work pretty well.
For the rest of the afternoon and evening, we sat monitoring the weather channels and internet, keeping an eye out for radar signatures that would indicate rotation in the many storm cells that were moving across the state. Areas such as Sanford, NC, near Raleigh, were especially hard hit by isolated tornadoes, in one case flattening a Lowe’s store. Pretty frightening stuff. Not long after, a strong cell moved through Bertie County to our north, causing widespread damage and a number of fatalities. We began to realize that our position monitoring the news was definitely a worthwhile effort — time well spent.
Toward 9 PM, we were watching the last of the storm line passing through the area, attenuating from a maritime effect coming off the nearby Atlantic. Just when we thought we’d be in the clear, we saw two lines of storms, one just to the north and one very close to the south, with tornadoes reported in each of them. As is sometimes the case, our town seemed to split the storms, and we realized that we would be in the clear.
It turns out that the squall line to the south contained an F2 tornado. The twister ran through the Croatan National Forest just a few miles to our south, carving a swath of damage through the trees. Since tornadoes don’t like resistance, they tend to dance over the treetops. Instead of toppling trees over at the base, the tops are simply snapped off:
Okay, in some cases the trees are just pushed over:
The tornado came to the boundary of the Croatan National Forest, approaching Route 70, a wide highway with plenty of clear area to set down. It seemed to be somewhat selective as it took only half of a sign. In a sense, we think what’s left of the sign tells a story in and of itself:
From what we understand, when a tornado leaves a forested area and comes upon a clearing, it will then set down to the ground. Such was the case here, as the clearing allowed the tornado to set upon the ground, crossing over Route 70 and slamming into a residential development fronted by older houses. Over 50 homes were damaged, with 10 likely completely destroyed. Fortunately, there were no fatalities from the twister, although at least 25 people throughout the state lost their lives to tornadoes like this one.
Our hearts go out to all who were affected by the storm, as they pick up the pieces and find some peace in their lives again.
Yet, there is beauty in all things, and though so much was destroyed in the storm, it is still the form of nature that fascinates. Even though trees are down and the area is ripped up, it will make way for a new beginning.