Robeson County braces for severe thunderstorms, possible tornadoes Thursday

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2021-03-19 00:43:00

Mar. 18—LUMBERTON — An overcast sky loomed over areas of Lumberton on Wednesday as the work day went on as usual, but weather conditions in Robeson County were forecast to devolve to strong wind gusts, large hail and rain on Thursday.

Stephanie Chavis, director of Robeson County Emergency Management, said she expected large hail, wind gusts of 60 mph and thunderstorms in the area on Thursday. On a scale of one to five, with five being the greatest risk for severe weather, the county was planning for a four.

“A strong cold front will drive a line of storms across the Carolinas, resulting in the potential for severe thunderstorms,” according to a Wednesday situational overview from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service in Wilmington.

“Widespread, intense, and long-lived severe storms are increasingly likely. Primary threats include damaging winds, strong tornadoes, and large hail. Frequent cloud-to-ground lightning is also likely, especially with any of the stronger storms,” the overview reads in part.

Inland areas in Southeast N.C. and Northeast South Carolina were to experience the greatest risks during “early afternoon hours” of Thursday, according to the NWS.

She spent much of the day Wednesday in conference-call briefings with the National Weather Service and county department heads, Chavis said. She planned to brief first responders in law enforcement, emergency medical services and fire departments about 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss plans and to tell them to have chainsaws ready and vehicles fueled ahead of the storm’s effects on Thursday.

“The department has added extra staffing in the event we have to deploy additional resources. Our equipment is ready and our responders are trained to meet their obligations to the community,” said Chris West, Lumberton Fire Department interim chief.

Chavis expected 1/4 to 1/2 inch of rain to fall on the county Thursday.

“I don’t think we’re gonna have to worry about flooding,” she said.

However, the NWS on Wednesday extended the flood warning for the Lumber River in Lumberton, which was at 12.5 feet at 9:50 a.m., until further notice. Flood stage is 13 feet. The river was expected to rise above flood stage Friday morning, with minor flooding forecast.

Downed trees, power outages and possible tornadoes were expected to occur, Chavis said.

“We’re telling everybody to make sure vehicles are fueled,” she said, in the event of power outages.

Chavis also encouraged county residents to have a plan in place that includes taking shelter in a basement or innermost room on the lowest floor of a building to protect themselves in the case of a tornado. She also said ditches or canals are places that people could take shelter from tornadoes if caught outside during a storm.

Duke Energy was monitoring weather conditions Wednesday to prepare to serve its more than 24,000 customers across Robeson County, spokeswoman Grace Rountree said.

“Local line technicians, service crews and other personnel throughout Duke Energy’s service area are prepared to respond as outages and emergencies occur,” Rountree said.

“As part of the company’s preparation, workers are checking equipment, supplies and inventories to ensure workers have adequate materials to make repairs and restore power outages. Duke Energy has been making grid improvements in and around the Lumberton area to strengthen the grid against severe weather threats and make power more reliable for our customers. These improvements help to reduce outages and allow Duke Energy to more efficiently use crews and equipment during a storm response,” she added.

The Public Schools of Robeson County planned to operate on a remote-learning schedule for students on Thursday because of the threat of severe weather. All PSRC Central Office employees and district employees were to operate Thursday on a telework schedule.

“Our maintenance crews will be on standby with chain saws and dump trucks and ready to respond. We are expecting this to be a high-wind event with downed trees and power lines,” said Andrew Barksdale, public information officer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

The contractor responsible for the construction of Interstate 295 at Interstate 95 in the northern part of the county, along with NCDOT, planned to monitor weather conditions and adjust accordingly, Barksdale said.

“We will stop working tomorrow afternoon, if the weather dictates,” he said in a statement.

Barksdale released safety tips for motorists traveling on the roadways on Thursday.

“People should avoid unnecessary travel tomorrow, especially during and immediately after the storm,” he said.

“If you do venture out, be extra cautious about any fallen trees and other debris you may encounter on roadways where our crews have not yet been able to respond and clear,” Barksdale added.

Road closures and updates can be found at DriveNC.gov.

State Farm shared tips about storm safety.

“If you’re at home, pick a place in the home where family members can gather if a tornado is headed your way. One basic rule is AVOID WINDOWS. An exploding window can injure or kill,” State Farm’s statement reads in part.

State Farm suggests people taking shelter to cover themselves with blankets, sleeping bags, a mattress or hands to protect their head. Areas under floors with heavy appliances should also be avoided because of the threat of appliances falling through floors.

Garbage cans and other large objects should be moved inside. Windows should be covered, and flashlights and batteries should be at the ready in case of power outages.

“Fill your vehicle’s gas tank. Don’t forget medications, identification and cash,” the statement reads in part.

After the storm occurs, State Farm also encourages residents to “document everything” to help with insurance claims, such as keeping receipts, taking pictures and making a list of damaged property. Avoid discarding furniture and damaged property until after speaking with a claim representative.

Reach Jessica Horne at 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]

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