ROCKWELL — The National Weather Service says the strong wind that hit the Rockwell area Monday afternoon wasn’t a tornado, but it sure felt like one to Larry and Beverly Gilbert.
The couple had just returned from the grocery store when the sky turned dark and the wind picked up at their home on Flowering Tree Lane off Organ Church Road.
Larry said he went to the front door and saw trees bent halfway to the ground under the force of the wind. He watched in shock as a huge tree swayed and toppled in his front yard, crashing down across his driveway and into his neighbor’s backyard.
Beverly ran from the living room to the washroom in the back of the house and got down on the floor.
The entire house shook when the tree hit the ground with a tremendous crash.
“I thought for sure it had hit the house,” Beverly said. “Thank God it didn’t hit either of our houses.”
The tree stretches from the Gilbert home to the Barringer home next door, missing each house by a few feet.
T.J. Barringer, 19, stood on his back porch and watched the tree come toward him. He shut the door and ran inside, convinced the tree would land on his home.
“It was pretty scary,” he said.
After the storm passed, everyone came out to survey the damage: broken fences, a smashed picnic table, lots of limbs and branches strewn across the yards.
Oddly, one branch that had broken loose from a tree stuck straight out of the ground like an arrow.
Another tree fell two doors down from the Gilbert home, with a third tree down at the end of the cul-de-sac. Three other trees were reported down in the Rockwell area.
The National Weather Service issued one tornado warning Monday, and that was for the area around Spartanburg, S.C.
The service did issue a severe thunderstorm warning for Rowan County at 3:18 p.m., when the storm was located near the Eastland Mall in Charlotte and moving northeast at 35 mph.
The storm moved through southeastern Rowan County and then across High Rock Lake, eventually taking down trees and power lines west of Denton in Davidson County, meteorologist Doug Outlaw said.
Outlaw said the service expected winds strong enough to produce damage, “but at no point did we see rotation.”
Rotation on the radar screen would signal the formation of funnel clouds and possibly a tornado. Once a funnel cloud makes contact with the ground, it’s called a tornado.
When the weather service feels a tornado may have occurred, they send someone to survey the damage for “rotational debris,” Outlaw said. Straight-line wind damage will push trees and limbs in one direction, while a tornado will fling debris in a circular pattern, he said.
Whatever they experienced Monday afternoon, the Gilberts said they will never forget it.