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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The mountains and foothills of North Carolina have already seen flooding from a large storm system that’s making its way across the Carolinas Thursday.
A tornado warning was issued around 9:50 a.m. for parts of Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties until 10:15 a.m.
This same line of storms will threaten the Charlotte area with severe weather and potential flooding Thursday afternoon, First Warn chief meteorologist Brad Panovich said. As of 9:30 a.m. Thursday, a lull over the Charlotte area could make for higher intensity when those storms roll in around 3 p.m. That lull doesn’t mean the storms are over.
“Even if it the rain lets up for a second, don’t let your guard down,” Panovich said. “This is not the end of the event, it is really going to be picking up as we go into the afternoon.”
Panovich explained that there is a threat for isolated tornadoes and damaging winds with these storms but the biggest threat will be flooding. There have been multiple reports of downed trees across the Charlotte area.
Some areas in the mountains have already seen up to 4 inches of rain from the first wave of storms. Creeks were seen overflowing their banks in Burke County. First Warn meteorologist Chris Mulcahy reported rain rates over more than 2 inches per hour with the storms.
The entire Charlotte area is under a Flash Flood Watch until early Friday. Panovich said this system has created flash flooding everywhere it’s been so far and expects some Flood Warnings Thursday. Several school districts announced they will be dismissing early due to the forecast.
Panovich says the second line of storms shows the potential for some rotation, which is a general indicator of severe weather.
“This doesn’t mean there’s a tornado, it just means there’s rotation with the line, which does correlate to severe storms,” Panovich said.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for the entire Charlotte area effective 6 a.m. Thursday. The mountain counties were already under a flash flood watch as storms will roll into the region late Wednesday and overnight.
“I don’t want to discount that threat, but flooding is by far our biggest issue. You’re 10 times more likely to see flooding than any other severe weather,” Panovich said.
“They’re small, but for this time of year, it’s elevated, I’m not going to lie,” Panovich said. “For February, that’s a pretty significant tornado threat, especially areas south of Charlotte, like Columbia, South Carolina.”
Panovich said more than widespread tornadoes, it looks like a possibility for a couple of spin-ups.
“Just wave after wave of heavy rain,” Panovich said. “There will be a lull at some point. It will be cloudy, but the clouds will be thin and we’ll be getting warm, humid air from the south. A backdoor cold front will be pushing in, and these winds are probably going to be rotating in the higher elevations, so the storms could produce higher winds.”
The second wave of storms Thursday afternoon will bring the biggest risk of severe weather. Panovich says the worst will likely be from around 3 p.m. through about 7.
There will be heavy rain and thunderstorms across the Carolinas until the early hours Friday morning.
“There will be a ton of rain. That’s a given,” Panovich said. “The only question is how widespread the severe weather is. Really strong winds are mixing down to the surface, and are we going to have rotating storms? We don’t have a real good handle on where the rotation might occur just yet.”
Once the storms clear, Panovich expects a pretty big snow event for the mountains. By Friday, skiers will have plenty of options to hit the slopes in the high country.
The bottom line?
“There’s a 100% chance we’re going to see some flooding somewhere,” Panovich said. “There will be heavy rain for everybody, the question is how widespread the damaging winds and severe weather are.”
SEVERE WEATHER TIPS FROM BRAD PANOVICH