CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Emergency crews and volunteers spent most of Thursday picking up the pieces after an EF-1 tornado rumbled through southwest Charlotte Wednesday evening.
The National Weather Service says the tornado had an estimated wind speed of 90 mph, with a maximum path width of 150 yards and a path length of 2.18 miles.
"The tornado path varies from 100 to 150 yards wide and produced damage along a non-continuous path. The first segment of damage ran from the 1200 block of John Price Road to the northeast part of the Ayrsley subdivision. This path length was 1.68 miles," the NWS report stated.
"The second segment of damage occurred from about 8500 Microsoft Way to West Arrowwood Road. This path length was about 0.5 miles, for a total damage length of 2.18 miles," the report concluded.
At Central Steele Creek Presbyterian Church, the damage was evident. A huge tree was toppled, a dumpster was moved, and the church’s steeple had its copper ripped away by the storm.
Church members were actually at choir practice when the storm hit, raising the level of concern for those in its path.
“The wind picked up a dumpster and moved it,” said one volunteer. “It turned over a trailer, it uprooted a tree in the back that’s probably two-and-a-half or three feet across and 100 years old. It ruined our steeple, it was unbelievable.”
Survey teams from the National Weather Service in Greenville, South Carolina arrived on the property just before noon. Before making it to Charlotte, the crew surveyed damage in outside of York, South Carolina, where officials say straight line winds were the culprit, and not a tornado, as indicated by radar Wednesday.
Meteorologists with the NWS say the damage in Charlotte, particularly in the Ayrsley neighborhood off Westinghouse Boulevard, appears worse than what was observed in South Carolina. The crews were working to confirm if the storm was indeed a tornado that touched down. Thursday afternoon, the storm was confirmed to be a tornado, marking it the first tornado to touch down in Mecklenburg County since 2014, said First Warn Storm Team chief meteorologist Brad Panovich.
“The evaluation of whether or not this was a tornado or straight line winds involves actually putting a puzzle together,” said one meteorologist. “And the puzzle we’re putting together, we have to find the first pieces where it began and follow it along through its conclusion.”
The experts used a combination of photography, meteorological data, and experience to reach a conclusion on the storm’s status as a tornado.
“There’s always differences and nuances that you come upon that you haven’t run into before, so we want to be very thorough. We also realize people are interested in what happened and what to know as quickly as possible.”