By Dave Russell
Bits of ice from up to 30,000 feet fell last Thursday on Jackson County, accompanying a quick burst of heavy rain and high winds.
“They’re what we call ‘pulse severe’ storms,” said Scott Krentz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “They’re a common summer weather phenomenon. They build really high, really quick, and come crashing down, bringing down a lot of hail and wind. They will pulse back up and regenerate and come down again.”
High moisture levels in the atmosphere have brought a lot of heavy rainfall this summer, he said.
Northern Jackson County received from 1/4 to an inch during the Thursday afternoon storm, Krentz said. The southern part of the county got up to 2 inches near Wolf Mountain and Cashiers. The NWS has rain gauges around the county and gathers information from the Jackson County Airport.
“It was pretty spotty,” he said. “Any time you get these convective cells like that the rainfall amounts are going to vary greatly in a short distance.”
Hail comes from high in the atmosphere.
“Updrafts, or thermals, drags up raindrops past the freezing level, which right now is about 14,000 feet,” he said. “It will pull the drops up to about 25-30,000 feet, and eventually the drops get heavy enough to overcome the updrafts and fall.”
There were scattered reports of power outages Thursday, but no major damage, said Todd Dillard, Jackson County Emergency Services director.
“We had a couple of calls on it, just three or four,” he said. “Not anything major, no traffic accidents or anything like that out of it. We lost power here at the 911 call center, but it came back on within an hour.”
NCDOT crews responded to eight to 10 mature trees blocking roads, with quite a few limbs down, county Maintenance Engineer Travis Williamson said.
“Most of it was in the Webster community,” he said. “It was like a little cell hit Webster, from the sewer plant, DSS, the (old) school to (the old) Jack the Dipper, it just kind of moved through there. It did a lot of damage in a short amount of time.”
NCDOT has five crews trained for chainsaw work in Jackson County to tackle downed trees and limbs, he said.
Calls to Duke Energy about power outages began at about 3 p.m., said Lisa Leatherman, Duke’s community relations manager.
“We had 1,794 customers affected, basically in Webster and Little Savannah,” she said. “There were some other spotty outages around Dillsboro and the Cullowhee area and Fairview Road in Sylva.”
In response to a Sylva Herald Facebook inquiry about power outages that day, Sara Stahlman said, “We lost power for 11.5 hours in Webster on N. River Rd.”
Corkey Colleen White said she lost power for approximately three hours near Fairview Elementary School.