2 tornadoes with 110 mph winds hit Gaston, Cleveland counties, NWS says

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — An EF-1 tornado hit Cleveland and Gaston counties Wednesday, the National Weather Service says. A second EF-1 was later confirmed to have also hit Gaston County.

NWS meteorologists surveyed the area on Thursday after the storms barreled through. They started in Cleveland County and headed to Gaston County later in the day.

The storms led to a driver’s death Wednesday afternoon after a tree fell on an SUV south of Belmont, Gaston County Emergency Services said.

The severe storms packed high winds that whipped through the region, causing widespread damage. NWS officials said the tornado had peak winds of 110 mph and was about 100 yards wide. It mostly caused damage to trees, some of which fell onto homes.

The path of one of tornadoes went from Cleveland County near Polksville into Cherryville and ended in northwestern Gaston County.

“We have an EF-1 tornado in that part of the counties, maximum winds of 110 mph. I believe it was about a 20-mile path,” said NWS Meteorologist Trisha Palmer.

The second was in northern Gaston County and traveled to Belmont.

Severe Weather Center 9 Meteorologist Joe Puma found several snapped trees and broken power poles in Gaston County on Thursday that were all blown in the same direction, indicating straight-line winds. Power crews were still out Thursday working to restore service.

The damage makes it difficult for meteorologists to determine whether it was caused by just straight-line wind damage or a tornado.

“If you can imagine spilling a glass of water, the water falls out, hits the ground and it splats out,” Palmer said. “So the winds do much the same thing in a thunderstorm, so it hits the ground, it splats out and the trees fall in what we call a divergent pattern. So the trees fall outwards, whereas a tornado -- because there’s rotating, they’re falling all over each other, crisscrossing, sometimes backwards.”

A State of Emergency declared in Gaston County on Wednesday will remain until at least noon on Friday, officials said.

‘Get in the bathtub’

Thousands of people in Gaston County were without power still on Thursday. Part of Dallas-Stanley Highway was still closed the next day because of the storm damage.

One man told Channel 9′s Tina Terry he was grateful his mom is OK after a tree fell on her home.

Terry learned the 83-year-old woman lost her home Wednesday night. Her son, Phillip Lail, walked Terry through the house he grew up in. It’s now in disarray after the massive tree fell over, landing on his mom’s favorite room.

“If she had been here, that is where she usually sits and sews and reads her books and things like that,” Lail said. “And the tree just went right through the kitchen, right there.”

Lail said his mom was at dinner when the tree fell, but when she came back, she was shaken.

“The first thing she said to me was, ‘I worked all my life to have this and now it’s gone,’” he said.

A Gastonia mom told Terry she and her kids weren’t hurt, but they were still without power on Thursday.

“Somebody said something about a tornado and I said ‘OK, let’s get in the bathtub,” she told Terry.

“It sucks, but got to bear with it.”

At last check, about 25,000 Gaston County customers who have Duke Energy and Gastonia Utilities were without power. A spokesperson for Duke Energy said some aren’t expected to have their power restored until midnight Thursday night. Duke said it’s bringing in extra resources to speed up that timetable.

(WATCH PREVIOUS: More than 100K lose power after deadly storms)

Joe Puma

Joe Puma, wsoctv.com

Joe is a meteorologist with Severe Weather Center 9

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