Straight line winds mimic tornado, damaging houses and occupied cars

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, June 28, 2023

By Chandler Inions and Elisabeth Strillacci

SALISBURY — Late Monday afternoon into the evening, a severe thunderstorm accompanied by what have been reported as straight-line winds swept through Salisbury. In the Fulton Street neighborhood, the winds cut a path along at least four streets, knocking trees into homes and cars and cutting off power to more than 3,000 at the height of the storm.

At the most intense stage, multiple North Ellis Street residents were sitting inside their cars when a massive tree toppled over on top of them.

“I just went out to roll my windows up because it was raining,” said Sadie Rice, who lives at 614 North Ellis Street. “(As) soon as I sat in the car, it started hailing really hard. Then I saw the tree coming.”

Rice was sitting in the driver’s seat of her Honda Accord.

“The tree came in on my lap,” Rice said. “I was able to slide back, but I was screaming for help because I was pinned in the car. When I slid back, I was able to kick the back door open. So I slid out of the side and ran into the house because I didn’t have anywhere else to run to.”

Rice estimated that the entire sequence occurred in just a few minutes.

“It was an adrenaline rush,” Rice said. “I did not know what happened. All I saw was the windows turn white, and then I felt the roof come in on top of me.”

The tree hit both of the vehicles parked at Rice’s residence along with two other vehicles parked on the side of the street.

“Both of them are totaled,” Rice said.

Tytiana Robins and Ben Redmond live next door. They were also in their car outside the residence when the tree fell on their car, crushing it.

“We had just pulled up from getting some food,” Redmond said. “We were sitting in the car for a minute listening to music, and as soon as I opened the door, the tree fell on top of us.”

“We saw [the storm] picking up,” Redmond said. “That was our cue. We figured, let’s get out. As soon as we tried, the tree came down.”

After he opened the door, the force of the falling tree knocked Redmond back into the car. Robins, who was in the passenger seat, had to crawl over the car because the other side was blocked, so she could not just walk around.

Redmond said initially he thought they were under attack, that he didn’t realize it was the tree. Robins said she had no idea what had happened until they got out of the car and actually saw the tree.

“We had to climb all under and through (the tree),” Redmond said.

Robins added, “It happened so fast. The first thing that I saw was glass. I thought we needed to get out of the car.”

Rice’s sister, who was in the house with her daughter, called 911.

“My daughter was screaming because she didn’t know what happened,” Rice said. “All she knew was that I was in the car. She didn’t know if I was OK or not.”

On Tuesday, as cleanup started and tree limbs were removed from the cars, the amount of the damage became even clearer.

“The tree is literally in my back seat,” Redmond said. “My back seat is gone.” All three people in the cars said they were still, understandably, sore with bruises, scratches and cuts.

“Glass was covering our legs and arms,” Redmond said.

Rice added, “The glass got me pretty good, too.”

Several nearby trees also fell, but none hit the house where any of the three live. Ironically, Rice, Robbins and Redmond did not lose power inside their homes.

The storm did cause damage to numerous other homes, some severe. Downed trees stretched in a path  and nearly all were felled in the same direction. Property after property had damage to either the houser itself, the yard or a vehicle. By Wednesday afternoon, the sound of saws and heavy machinery could be heard throughout the neighborhood as the cleanup began and the work continued into Wednesday.

One Caldwell Street resident said she just moved in to her home four months ago. She had been across the street to meet her new neighbors Monday afternoon, then went home and called a family member. She hung up when the thunder and lightning started, and moments later, she looked out her front picture window to see that same neighbor’s pine tree coming down right in front of her house. She said the neighbors had a tree come through their kitchen. “I love Salisbury, but wow, what a welcome,” she said. Hearing that there have been no reports of serious injuries, she said, “then it’s not so bad.”

A spokesperson with the American Red Cross provided the following list of various residents who were displaced by the storm. 

  • 429 N Main St., Salisbury: A maple tree fell against the side of a two-story dwelling with only cosmetic damage to the structure. Power was already out in the area due to the storm. The landlord advised he would place all six occupants needing temporary housing in other houses until the tree could be removed and power restored. 
  • 704 N Craige St., Salisbury: A large oak tree fell on the corner of a single-story brick-veneer dwelling cracking walls and the foundation displacing two occupants.
  • 700 N Craige St., Salisbury: An oak tree fell on the corner of a single-story brick veneer dwelling cracking walls, foundation and buckling the front porch floor displacing four occupants. 
  • 825 N Ellis St., Salisbury: A large oak tree fell through the side of a single-story wood-framed dwelling destroying the residence. 
  • 428 W Franklin St., Salisbury: A small maple tree fell against the side of a single-story brick veneer apartment building affecting one unit. 

A spokesperson from the National Weather Service said review of radar indicated straight line winds in Salisbury were likely the cause of the damage. Questions arose about a possible tornado, but NWS said there are no indications of it, and that straight line winds can cause tornado-like damage.

Power to the Fulton Street area was restored sometime early Wednesday afternoon and by 5 p.m. all but a handful of customers had been restored.