National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Straightline Wind Damage Associated with Microburst
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May 31, 2003
New Hanover County



Severe thunderstorms took aim on southeastern North Carolina during the afternoon and evening of May 31, 2003. Numerous damage reports came in from northern New Hanover county around 9:00 PM Saturday night, and a National Weather Service Survey Team was dispatched to the area by 10:00 PM. (click for damage path)

Damage in the vicinity of the Brittany Woods subdivision included snapped trees, splintered fences, blown in windows and garage doors, and damaged roofs and walls. Even though an accurate assessment as to the cause of the damage would have to wait until daylight, it was apparent that 80 to 100 mph winds blasted a path through the neighborhood.

After sunrise Sunday morning, NWS meteorologists noted no evidence of a rotation in the debris field, and the damage pattern was more consistent with that of straightline winds associated with a microburst. Although the damage was apparently not caused by a tornado, it is comparable to that of an F1 on the Fujita Wind Damage Scale.

WFO Wilmington, NC issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for New Hanover county at 8:40 PM, and the damage occurred to the subdivision around 8:56 PM.

Damage was widespread and limited to a relatively narrow path (50-150 yards wide). There was one instance of a Ford Explorer and attached U-Haul trailer that was blown around 180 degrees from its initial position. Evidence suggests that the trailer, which was upwind in the microburst, was lifted and blown, dragging around the rear of the attached vehicle.

Several dozen homes sustained at least some damage, but in the most severe cases (limited to around half a dozen), it appears that garage doors or windows gave way first, allowing wind to enter the structure and blow portions of walls and/or roofs away. Other extensive damage to a home resulted from large sections of a wooden fence being lifted and blown literally through the walls.

Towards the end of the damage path, a large travel trailer and an RV motor home were flipped.

Although many people were at home during the height of the storm, most that we talked to sought shelter in the interior sections of their homes, away from doors and windows. Fortunately no injuries were reported.