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Local authorities concerned about severe weather after sundown Wednesday

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Justin Hobson
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Category F5 tornado (upgraded from initial estimate of F4) viewed from the southeast as it approached Elie, Manitoba on Friday, June 22nd, 2007.

A tornado watch is in effect for southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina until 7 PM, a wind advisory until 8. 

Just about sunset, a line of thunderstorms coming from the west is expected to arrive full force in the Cape Fear region. 

Reid Hawkins is the Science and Operations Officer at the National Weather Service in Wilmington.  He says there’s another factor in play:  a big low pressure center just west of us.

"...And that has created a pressure gradient.  And what it does – it produces strong winds over a large area – and so that’s what produced that wind advisory.  Now, when we get the thunderstorms, we can get even higher winds.  There’s a low-level wind maximum, probably 5,000-7,000 feet up and it can bring even higher winds down to the surface than what we’re seeing."

Hawkins says winds could gust over 50 miles per hour.  That’s strong enough to turn unsecured outdoor items into projectiles and topple trees rooted in saturated ground.  But the biggest concern, according to Hawkins:  possible isolated tornadoes.  He expects to see the winds gradually diminish after 7 PM… with relative calm by tomorrow morning. 

160224HOMEB4DARK--WRAP.mp3
Listen to Warren Lee here.

New Hanover and Brunswick Counties closed their offices early today; most schools sent kids home by noon.   While some people chuckled at the early closings amid bright sunshine this afternoon, local authorities say the real dangers come into play after dark. 

Warren Lee, Director of Emergency Operations for New Hanover County, says this is a fast-moving storm and conditions can worsen quickly.

"Its moving-forward speed is 60-plus miles per hour, so conditions can change quickly here.  As we get closer to dark, obviously it’s going to get more difficult – if there were a funnel cloud, it would be more difficult to see it… Again, with the speed of this event, it may be very short notice.  It’s not like a hurricane where we’re going to get a number of hours of notice that something is getting ready to happen.  It could be a matter of minutes."

Beware of blowing debris, tree limbs, and downed trees, says Lee.  Power outages could increase throughout the area as the evening wears on.   This same storm system has already caused deaths in other parts of the southeast.