Heavy rain triggers flooding, lake level concerns

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comJuly 5, 2013 

Heavy showers and thunderstorms turned deadly Thursday night and now are threatening to cause flooding along the chain of Catawba River reservoirs from the mountains down to Charlotte.

National Weather Service meteorologists say the rain is easing in the immediate Charlotte area, but concerns about flooding along the lakes is growing.

Meanwhile, the stormy weather is taking a toll in other ways. Carowinds theme park south of Charlotte was closed Friday morning when a tree, its root system possibly weakened by days of heavy rain, fell onto power lines. Elsewhere, officials in several towns are working to determine when July 4 fireworks displays that were postponed Thursday evening can be rescheduled.

Gov. Pat McCrory has asked the federal government to declare storm-struck portions of Stanly, Anson, Cabarrus, Union, Montgomery and Rowan counties as disaster areas. McCrory is scheduled to visit the western N.C. mountains on Friday to view additional flood damage.

A flash flood watch has been dropped for Mecklenburg and other counties east of the Catawba River, but the watch remains in effect through Friday for areas west of Charlotte.

Meanwhile, the endless stream of showers and storms turned deadly Thursday night, when a man in Cherokee County, about 50 miles southwest of Charlotte, was killed during a thunderstorm. The coroner’s office says the man was struck by a large tree limb during a thunderstorm.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning until 9 p.m. Friday for areas in central Burke, central McDowell, northern Catawba, southeast Caldwell, western Iredell and southwest Alexander counties that are along and near the Catawba River or its reservoirs.

Chris Horne, a meteorologist at the Weather Service’s office in Greer, S.C., said water levels are above full-pond status in reservoirs from Lake James in Burke County down to Lake Norman. Flooding already is taking place in some areas near reservoirs in the foothills, and additional flooding is expected.

Duke Energy has issued an advisory for residents and business interests along the lakes, saying water levels are rising because of heavy rain in the mountains, near the Catawba River’s headwaters.

Off-and-on showers and thunderstorms are forecast for the immediate Charlotte area Friday, with the greatest concentration expected before1 p.m. But scattered storms are forecast for the rest of the day and into the weekend. Meteorologists say the heaviest rain gradually is pushing westward, as high pressure over the Atlantic Ocean gradually strengthens.

Storms on Thursday evening forced officials to postpone a number of Independence Day fireworks displays in several places, including Shelby and Morganton. The big display in Charlotte’s uptown was delayed 45 minutes as a strong storm moved through. City officials said Charlotte’s 311 information line received a number of calls from residents wondering why the fireworks hadn’t started as scheduled at 9:30 a.m.

But the weather’s impact was more serious elsewhere.

In Gaffney, S.C., 34-year-old Paul Terrell Littlejohn died when a large tree limb fell on him while he stood under an oak tree in his front yard.

“The limb measured 3 feet in circumference and fell from approximately 25 feet,” Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler said. “It is never safe to be outside during a thunderstorm, and this is absolute evidence of its unfortunate fury and fatal effects.”

Authorities say winds gusted to about 40 mph when the limb fell about 7:30 p.m. Winds from the same storm blrew down trees about 20 minutes later to the north, near the town of Grover in Cleveland County.

In Caldwell County, northwest of Charlotte, more than 4 inches of rain fell Thursday, sending streams and creeks out of their banks. The U.S. Forest Service evacuated Mortimer Campground, on N.C. 90, after Wilson’s Creek surged out of its banks. About 120 campers were affected.

Flash flooding also temporarily closed Powerhouse Road, about 3 miles north of Glen Alpine, and Jay Clark and Pax Hill roads north of Morganton.

At least four roads in Caldwell County were closed by flooding. The N.C. Department of Transportation said two roads were closed by flooding near Jefferson in Ashe County.

Flood warnings were in effect Friday morning for river flooding in parts of Burke, Caldwell and Watauga counties.

This all comes on the heels of flash flooding last Friday evening and Sunday near Charlotte. State transportation officials report more than a dozen roads – in Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Anson and Stanly counties – were closed after washouts. Officials with the DOT still have no estimate on when those roads will be repaired and reopened.

Steve Lyttle: 704-358-6107 Twitter: @slyttle

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