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A pine tree fell into a law office parking lot on King Street, damaging several cars. Kellen Moore | Watauga Democrat.

Originally published: 2012-12-27 07:45:12
Last modified: 2012-12-28 10:00:18

Wind knocks out power, downs trees

Roaring winds caused havoc overnight Thursday, dismantling Watauga County’s infrastructure while chucking trees into power lines, roads, houses and cars.

The winds arrived late Wednesday afternoon and picked up speed throughout the night.

The National Weather Service station at Watauga Medical Center in Boone recorded winds in the 40 to 50 mph range overnight, topping out with a gust of 75 mph at 3:35 a.m.

The result was hundreds of households seeing black Wednesday and Thursday.

Wednesday night, Blue Ridge Electric linemen repaired a major outage in Watauga County that affected nearly 10,000 members when a tree fell around 11 p.m. on a power line serving primarily the Todd community.

As of 11:30 a.m. Thursday, linemen were still working to restore power to 1,046 customers in Watauga County, primarily in the Blowing Rock area.

“It was really pretty chaotic with all the trees,” said Renee Whitener, spokeswoman for Blue Ridge Electric.

In addition to snow and ice, recent heavy rains were a factor in bringing a number of trees down, Whitener said, because the rain softened the ground and loosened tree root systems.

“All that combined was where we saw a lot of trees outside of the right-of-way coming down,” she said.

In one instance this week, a tree fell only feet away from a crew of linemen working at night.

“It’s really dangerous out there in the dark,” Whitener added.

Whitener stressed the importance of reporting every outage, because sometimes only a few households may be affected. But she urged electric customers to use the reporting line (800) 448-2383 to call in outages, not 911, which should be reserved for emergencies.

Whitener also reminded citizens to avoid downed power lines, which can be energized and capable of causing injury or death by electric shock.

Within Boone, sporadic outages also were widespread, said Ed Miller, general manager of New River Light and Power.

The most notable outage occurred along Blowing Rock Road in the heart of town, he said. Although few customers were affected, the outage knocked out traffic lights until power was restored around 2 p.m. Thursday, Miller said.

Charter Communications also experienced service outages in Boone that affected more than 900 customers, according to company representatives.

The telephone and power problems caused the Watauga County Communications Center’s main radio consoles to go down around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to Director Jeff Virginia.

The communications center briefly rerouted its 911 lines through the Boone Police Department while AT&T made various repairs to the system, Virginia said. The county sent a dispatcher to Boone’s office temporarily to assist with handling calls during the switch.

“I was told that there were very few 911 calls that came to the police department, and there was never a loss of 911 service to the public,” Virginia said in an email.

Downed trees have also been the theme the past couple of days for the N.C. Department of Transportation. Watauga County Maintenance Engineer Kevin Whittington said. NCDOT has removed approximately 18 to 20 trees from roads since midnight Thursday morning.

“We’ve had trees all over the county that were down last night and again today,” Whittington said. “The cold temperatures tonight will freeze back all this moisture that’s on the roadway — we will be here to monitor that throughout the night.”

The falling trees also led to some damage that won’t be as easily cleared and repaired.

In front of the Clement Law Office on King Street, a massive pine was uprooted and fell onto three vehicles, crushing the top of one parked car and damaging at least two others.

A nearly identical situation was reported on Aho Road, again damaging vehicles.

At University Village in Boone, a mighty oak toppled onto businessman Karl Smith’s home around 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, the second large tree to hit his residence in as many years.

“The whole house shook as it came down on the roof,” Smith said, describing it as “the biggest vibration I’ve ever felt.”

Richard Hicks, owner of Hicks Tree Service, who arrived at the Smith residence with a crew early Thursday, estimated the approximately 75-foot tree to be about 65 years old.

Hicks had recently trimmed the oak and predicted the possibility of it becoming uprooted in the near future. Smith said he was grateful to Hicks and his crew for coming to the rescue.

“We’re getting it removed from the house, I’ve got homeowners insurance and most of all, my little Dachshund and I are safe,” Smith said. “God was watching over us.”

The National Weather Service was forecasting partly sunny skies today in Boone with a high near 44 — a brief reprieve before the next blast.

By tonight, forecasters expect a chance of rain and snow before midnight, then snow. New snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches is possible.

Rain showers and snow are expected to continue Saturday morning, becoming rain showers between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., then returning to a mix after 5 p.m.

A chance of snow showers also was expected Saturday night and Sunday.

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