Storms bring damage, flooding to Chatham County

Next round of rain adds to flood threat

Posted 2/14/20

The powerful line of storms that blew through Chatham County last Thursday brought high winds and rains that damaged homes, caused power outages and flooded roads and bridges.

This week’s …

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Storms bring damage, flooding to Chatham County

Next round of rain adds to flood threat

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Posted

The powerful line of storms that blew through Chatham County last Thursday brought high winds and rains that damaged homes, caused power outages and flooded roads and bridges.

This week’s forecast rains could exacerbate local flooding.

By mid-day Thursday, tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings were popping up in Chatham and surrounding counties. As a result, officials with Chatham County Schools decided to release students early. But some of those students found themselves unable to leave upon dismissal. At the time, there was a tornado warning issued which initiated principals in schools in the warning’s path to implement “tornado protocol,” according to John McCann, public relations coordinator for Chatham County Schools.

Parents described arriving at Chatham Central High School and Siler City Elementary School as the storm struck, bringing high winds and flying debris. School resource officers and administrative officials ordered students and parents into buildings as the storm passed. One resource officer, Herbie Stubbs, scooped up two distraught students to get inside the building. Once inside, all the students, parents and teachers laid on the floor until the storm passed.

On Friday morning, high winds following the storms resulted in power outages in parts of Chatham County, much of it on the western side, resulting in the closure of four schools on Friday. Parents of children at Chatham Central, J.S. Waters, Bennett School and Bonlee School received a phone call Friday morning alerting them to the last-minute closure. Buses were already en route to pick up students for school that morning when the power outages were discovered. Each school “made provisions to keep the kids safe” until arrangements were made “for a safe return home,” according to McCann.

The storms and subsequent wind knocked down numerous trees around the county, in some cases blocking roadways. According to Steve Newton, Chatham County’s emergency management director, at least two homes were damaged when trees fell onto them — one in Pittsboro on U.S. Hwy 87 and another on Sam Jones Road.

Areas prone to flash-flooding did experience it during last week’s storm, but some areas saw less impact compared to previous flash flooding events, according to Newton. Newton noted that the repaired culvert on Pittsboro Elementary School Road, for instance, “looked like an improvement” over the one that washed out during flash flooding from heavy hurricane rains in 2018.

The storms dropped four inches of rain or more on some some parts of the county, according to the National Weather Service and Chatham County Emergency Management, causing both flash flooding in areas as well as pushed all three major rivers in Chatham — the Haw River, the Deep River and the Rocky River — to or near flood stage. The Haw River peaked at just over 17 feet on Friday, six feet above flood stage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The Rocky River peaked at 16 feet. Though the USGS does not indicate a “flood stage” for the river, prior to the storm, the river was at three feet. The Deep River’s gauge in Moncure said the river peaked at 10 feet last week, one foot over flood stage. But Newton noted that the gauge there does not accurately tell the tale of the Deep River on the western side of the county.

As river levels rose Friday and Saturday, flood waters prompted road closures, particularly along the Deep River in the southwestern area of the county. Roads near the Deep River-Camelback Bridge were closed, including R. Jordan and Rosser Roads. In the Goldston-Gulf area, Goldston-Carbonton Road, Alton King Road, Plank Road and U.S. Hwy 42 were closed over the weekend after flood waters made travel impossible on portions of the roads.

According to Newton, one water rescue of kayakers was conducted Friday at the Buckhorn Dam on the Deep River. There were also at least two motorists made the mistake of attempting to drive through flooded roadways. Newton said that the driver of a tractor trailer had to be rescued on R. Jordan Road and the driver of a car had to be rescued near Carbonton, both over the weekend.

“The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office and first responders do our best to notify the public of flooded roads,” Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson said. “And we continue to have people try to cross covered roads which is extremely dangerous.”

Roberson said that flooding roadways create the “highest risk for loss of life” as it takes “very little water to move a car.” When those who ignore warnings get “into trouble,” it “puts first responders lives at risk” as well.

“We ask everyone to not drive on flooded roads,” Roberson said. “If you can’t see the pavement, don’t try to drive on it.”

By Monday, the waters receded and N.C. Dept. of Transportation crews began the work of removing mud and debris from the roads in order to re-open them. But the threat of additional rain this week may also bring the threat of more flooding along the rivers. The National Weather Service is predicting rain for most of the week.

“I’m not a weatherman,” Newton said. “But additional flooding would not be out of the realm of possibility considering the amount of water already in our swollen creeks and rivers.”

Jordan Lake, which was measured at a level of 228 feet on Monday, is technically in flood stage as well, according to Dana Matics, assistant operations project manager for Jordan Lake. Matics said that on Monday morning, the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake, were in a “holding pattern,” doing a minimum water release of 200 cubic feet per second. However, by Moday afternoon, that amount was increased to 1,000 cubic feet per second. This release, located at the Jordan Dam in Moncure which flows back into the Haw River and eventually the Cape Fear, is about double the average flow of 500 cubic feet per second.

“That’s the balance,” Matics said. “We have to balance what’s in the lake with what’s going to fall out of the sky and not add to flooding downstream.”

Reporter Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

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