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Dorian leaves little damage, but storm spawned possible tornado

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SMITHFIELD — A team from Raleigh’s National Weather Service forecast office investigated the site of a possible tornado touchdown that damaged a Smithfield home. 

The  house, located in the 400 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, had a large tree fall on a car and a house late Thursday afternoon. 

Smithfield Town Councilman Marion Lee lives in the neighborhood.

“I don’t think it was a tornado, I don’t know,” said Lee. “I did hear a roaring sound, and the faint sound of a train. So I went to investigate. The tree that hit that house was probably going to fall someday. What concerns me is that the house only has one entrance and it was partially blocked.”

Lee said the woman who lives there and her grown son spent the night elsewhere and returned Friday. He said a crew was working to clear the debris.

The National Weather Service’s on-site investigation only took 10 minutes, said NWS meterologist Nick Petro.

“We talked with the resident,” said Petro. “There’s not enough on-site data to prove it was a tornado. We’ll take our data back and overlay it on our radar data to see if it was a weak tornado.”

If it does prove to be a tornado, Petro said it would be an EF-0 on the Enhanced Fujita Tornado Damage Scale. That’s the weakest tornado on the EF scale and generates wins of 75-85 mph. He said his team was also investigating possible tornado sites in Wayne and Wilson counties.


Johnston County government spokeswoman Lu Hickey said Dorian’s impact on the county was minimal.

“Johnston County did not experience any significant emergency events as a result of Hurricane Dorian. We had 50 individuals taking shelter at North Johnston Middle School,” said Hickey. “ To our knowledge, the National Weather Service has not confirmed a tornado in Smithfield.  No fires were reported, nor did we have any water rescues.”

Smithfield town spokesman Brian Eaves said the town didn’t suffer any power outages.

“Dunkin’ Donuts had ‘partial power’ and our crews addressed that earlier today,” Eaves said Friday. “Due to heavy rains, we were called out 10 separate times to address issues at the sewer lift stations, but we had no overflows, or spills.”

Eaves said during the National Weather Service’s 11:30 a.m. Friday briefing, meteorologists said only that an event happened during a tornado warning.

Selma Interim Town Manager Mike McLaurin said Thursday was a quiet night.

“We had no major incidents,” said McLaurin. “We had one minor incident with a pump station that we will be working on. We had some minor street flooding. We had prepared for this possibility by staging barricades near those intersections that we felt were most likely to temporarily flood.”

In Clayton, town spokeswoman Stacy Beard said only one tree fell in town and a crew had it removed in 15 minutes.

“We were ready in our Emergency Operations Center, which was manned throughout the night,” Beard said. “The town staff has done their rounds and everything looks great, even the greenways.”

Princeton Police Chief Tyrone Sutton said there was little damage — a stark contrast to Hurricane Matthew, which struck in October 2016 and caused extensive flooding in the town and surrounding areas.

“We had eight to 10 customers that reported  power outages Friday morning,” said Sutton. “With the exception of small debris on some roads and one small-size tree down, we didn’t have any issues. There wasn’t any flooding observed and no large amount of water that impeded traffic.”


“I have been out looking at tobacco fields this morning and we do have some damage to our tobacco crop.” said Bryant Spivey, Johnston County Cooperative Extension director. “But this damage is fairly light when compared to the damage caused by Hurricane Florence. We do have some leaves blown off of the stalk and leaves that are bruised and blown around.”

Spivey said the remaining tobacco in the field won’t hold as long as it would have without Dorian’s winds.

“This means that we have less time to harvest the remaining crop than what we had,” said Spivey. “ The process that is happening is damaged plant cells releasing ethylene, a naturally occurring chemical, thereby hastening the ripening process. Tobacco should last longer than it did following Florence. Remember, Florence lasted for days and we experienced higher wind speeds and much more rainfall. So, we do have some time.”

The Johnston County Emergency Operations Center suspended its work at noon Friday and the county, along with the towns, ended their states of emergency.