Carter County survives Mother Nature's tests

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

   In the past Carter County has braced itself against some pretty severe weather. Fortunately, the community's preparedness for disaster has prevented the storms from becoming more deadly than they were.
   The flood of 1998 hit Carter County with little warning. It came on the back of a blizzard that rocked the county. Unseasonably warm temperatures melted the snow and ice from the blizzard in Roan Mountain. The melted snow, coupled with steady rain, caused the Watauga River to flood, and waters reaching as high as five feet in some areas claimed the lives of seven Carter Countians.
   There have been several flash flood events in Carter County since 1996. The most recent occurrence was July 11, 2001 when flood waters damaged homes along Hwy. 321 and washed out a section of the road. "Mountains tend to increase the threat of flash flooding," said Jerry McDuffy with the Morristown Weather Center. "Flash floods are the biggest threats for mountainous regions."
   Most of the deaths that result from flooding occur at night and when people become trapped. Flash floods occur within a few minutes or hours after an excessive rainfall, a dam or levee failure, or a sudden release of water held by snow or ice. Because they happen so quickly they are more life threatening than general or river floods.
   Flood safety rules encourage people to evacuate all dips, low spots, stream beds, drainage ditches and culverts. People should stay away from areas that have already been flooded because the flowing water is capable of carrying objects and people with it. Drivers should never enter flooded areas as roads may be washed out and should be especially careful when driving at night. Flood conditions are hard to recognize in the dark.
   TEMA advises those who live in flood susceptible areas to receive flood insurance. Most people do not realize that flood damages are not covered by homeowners insurance, and floods can strike instantly. TEMA also advises people who live in frequently flooded areas to stockpile emergency building materials such as plywood, plastic sheeting, lumber and nails.
   Tennessee is also susceptible to a high rate of tornados. It ranked twice in the top 20 states for the deadliest tornado years since 1950. The spring of 1952 is ranked ninth in the country for the deadliest tornado year. The state's other deadly outbreak occurred in 1974 when Tennessee suffered a total of 47 tornados. Tennessee is also ranked 23rd in the nation for the most tornados with 558.
   The latest tornado to touch ground in Carter County hit on June 3, 1998. The minor tornado resulted in a considerable amount of structural damage about 1.5 miles north of Buladean. The tornado damaged Holly Springs Baptist Church and other buildings in the area.
   "Even though Carter County is somewhat mountainous, tornados can occur quite often there," McDuffy said.
   A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that extends from the base of the thunderstorm and is in contact with the ground. Tornado winds average 100 mph, but often exceed 300 mph. Strong tornados develop from severe thunderstorms in atmospheric conditions with a wind profile that varies in height.
   There have been 22 severe thunderstorms in Carter County since 1996. Downbursts from thunderstorms often result in devastating structural damages. The boat dock on the Watauga River sustained heavy damage from a downburst during a severe thunderstorm.
   When a severe thunderstorm warning is issued for an area, citizens are urged to find sturdy shelter immediately. They should avoid any electrical appliances, metal pipes and corded telephones. Severe thunderstorm warnings should be treated the same as tornado warnings.
   Most of Carter County's NWS support for severe weather comes through Morristown and the weather center there. The center promotes weather education presentations in local schools and provides weather related information to the people of Eastern Tennessee.

The mission of the center is to provide weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.