By Tim Gardner
Heavy rains from Tropical Storm Fred, which churned on August 17 from the Gulf of Mexico into the North Carolina High Country, created many problems in Avery County, where extensive flooding has occurred.
As much as seven-and-a-half inches of rain has fallen across the region in the last couple days. Runoff from the heavy rains into creeks and streams caused sudden increases in water levels and flows, even in areas where rainfall was lighter. Streets, other roadways and parking lots became rivers of moving water, while various bridges were weakened or washed out. County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. said the flooding also has created mudslides and rockslides in some places.
Tornado warnings were initiated and extended several times throughout the afternoon and night in Avery County. No tornadoes were reported to have touched down there.
Avery County Emergency personnel responded to several dozen calls, some of which have been vehicle accidents as a result of the flooding.
A tree uprooted and fell across a vehicle traveling South on Three Mile Mountain, Highway 194 South (Scotty and Lulu Belle Wiseman Highway), approximately one-and-a-half miles from the intersection of North Carolina Highways 194 South and 221. The vehicle was a truck reportedly belonging to Owen Spry of the Three Mile Community, who was driving it at the time of the accident. Spry was reported to have no injuries from the accident. The NC Highway Patrol, local NC DOT and Green Valley Fire Department responded to the call. Traffic was halted in both directions before the vehicle was moved from the roadway and the tree was sawed up and removed.
Avery County’s public schools are closed Wednesday as a result of the storm, as they are in Mitchell and Yancey County to the south. Both of the latter counties also had extensive flooding as did all other counties in the North Carolina High Country and Western North Carolina.
An emergency shelter for anyone who needed it was set up at the Dive-In swimming pool office building in Newland.
Duke Progress Energy, which serves the lower end of Avery County reported more 500 residences and businesses people without power for about five hours Tuesday afternoon until late into the night. And Mountain Electric, which provides electricity to the middle and upper parts of the county had thousands of customers lose their electricity.
The Avery County Sheriff’s Department made a county-wide automated phone call last night urging residents to not drive unless it was an emergency because of many impassible roads. The heavy rains brought down huge amounts of tree limbs and debris all across the county.
More impacts from the flooding rain are still unfolding across the region. Stream gauges have indicated that both Wilson Creek and North Toe River were in heavy flood stages. Water is still covering roads in those drainage basins.
Winds also were a problem most of Tuesday and into the night. Though sustained winds remained below tropical-storm force, a few tropical-storm force gusts above 39 miles-per-hour (mph) struck. The gusty winds and wet ground downed trees and power lines, especially as soils became more saturated due to the heavy rainfall.
Barrier, Jr. said county officials will start estimating a cost the damage from the storm caused the county as clean-up efforts are already underway by local North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) and county maintenance personnel, as those from county fire and rescue departments.
According to meteorologists, the flooded streams and rivers may take a few days to completely recede. Water levels will gradually recede on area creeks and streams as runoff drains into the main stream rivers.
The National Weather Service, an entity of the Federal government, has issued a new Flash Flood Watch for today (Wednesday). Scattered thunderstorms are possible this afternoon and this evening across the mountains. Brief heavy downpours, gusty winds, and cloud-to-ground lightning will be the main threats.
Meteorologists are predicting a sixty percent chance of rainfall between Thursday and Saturday, before dropping to 40 percent Saturday night and Sunday, then only 30 percent through Tuesday.