During a severe weather event the WWAY weather team is on the air informing viewers of the current warnings. But it is the local office of the National Weather Service that actually issues all of the watches and warnings across our area. They had a very busy morning last November 16. The stage was set for severe weather that day. There was a strong upper level low overhead, plenty of warm and humid air at the surface, and a strong cold front bearing down. Tornado watches had been issued for the area the night before, but it wasn't until that morning that things started looking particularly bad. National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Bacon said, "The storm formed offshore over the ocean and started moving toward the state line or the Calabash area. We issued some special weather statements about it because it was a fairly strong looking storm; it was an isolated storm all by itself with almost no other storms on our radar at the time. And then it moved right over our radar site, which is located in Shallotte, and proceeded to go on to the north moving very quickly for a thunderstorm at about 45 to 50 mph." At 6:21 a.m. the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning in Columbus County. The warning was upgraded to a tornado warning at 6:29 a.m. The tornado touched down at 6:37 a.m. The storm crossed 74, this is when the tornado developed very rapidly and obtained F3 status. This is just west of Riegelwood, which is where the fatalities and injuries were. The storm then continued across the Cape Fear River in southern Pender County. A tornado warning was then issued. No injuries there but quite a bit of structural damage. During the event, the National Weather Service was not only fully staffed, but had two to three times more people working than usual. Their primary focus that morning was watching the radar and issuing warnings. This was an unusual storm, all by itself on radar moving very quickly. And seven minutes of tornado lead time with about 17 minutes once the first severe thunderstorm warning was issued. Both of those warnings were broadcasted on WWAY and over the NOAA weather radio all hazards network. NOAA weather radios can be bought online or at stores like Radio Shack. They usually cost around $50, which is is a small price to pay for something that could save your life.
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