MARCH 28, 1984 TORNADO OUTBREAK - 30TH ANNIVERSARY
The most destructive tornado outbreak to sweep through the Carolinas since the 1884 Enigma Outbreak occurred during the afternoon and evening hours of March 28, 1984. There were 24 confirmed tornadoes, including 7 F4 tornadoes, 5 F3 tornadoes and 7 F2 tornadoes. The outbreak caused 57 deaths and 1248 injuries, with 37% of the deaths in mobile homes. The storms were moving as fast as 65 mph, crossing all of eastern North Carolina in about 4 hours. In the Newport/Morehead City County Warning Area (CWA), there were 3 total tornadoes, 2 were F4’s, the other an F3. These 3 tornadoes produced 16 deaths and over 300 injuries. The counties affected in Eastern North Carolina included Pitt, Greene, Lenoir and Duplin with 9 deaths reported in Pitt County and 7 in Greene County. East Carolina University in Greenville sustained severe damage.
The National Severe Storms Forecast Center (now Storm Prediction Center) had all of Eastern North Carolina in a high risk of severe weather, the only time a high risk has ever been utilized in this area until April 16, 2011. Many of the tornado damage paths were ¾ to 1 mile wide. This outbreak developed near the center of a mesoscale low, in a fashion resembling the famous 1925 “Tri-State Tornado”. In this outbreak, the damage path was attributed to separate tornadoes, though one mesocyclone produced (along a roughly 250+ mile track), a family of large tornadoes – 12 of which produced F3 or F4 damage with swaths of downburst damage and large hail.
Damage in the wake of March 28, 1984 Tornado (Courtesy WRAL-TV).
Tracks of the March 28, 1984 Outbreaks beginning in northeast Georgia and tracking across the Carolinas by late evening.
Timeline of Eastern North Carolina Tornadoes (times approximate)
- 815 pm – Tornado enters Duplin County from Sampson County producing extensive F4 damage in Faison and Calypso before hitting Mount Olive in Wayne County. The tornado travelled 21 miles and was as much as ¾ mile wide.
- 830 pm - F3 tornado touches down and moves through the southeastern portion of LaGrange in Lenoir County, injuring 81 but causing no deaths.
- 845 pm – the deadliest tornado of the entire outbreak caused 16 deaths and 153 injuries in Greene and Pitt County. The tornado was up to ¾ mile wide and caused extensive damage to the southeastern suburbs of Greenville including damage at East Carolina University. Nine fatalities occurred in Pitt County with seven in Greene County. The fatalities occurred in Greenville, Winterville, Ayden and Snow Hill. See Figure 10 for a closer view of the Eastern North Carolina tornadoes.
Close up of March 28, 1984 Tornado Tracks.
A major change in National Weather Service warnings occurred due to this outbreak. The subsequent disaster survey report recommended that the National Weather Service begin using tornado “call to action” statements in severe thunderstorm warnings issued during tornado watches.
It is these types of events that remind us to always be prepared for severe weather and tornadoes, especially in the Spring in eastern North Carolina!