Tornadoes….not frequent in the High Country, but you may be surprised at the number of watches and warnings issued over the years.
Before diving into the tornado history, it's of note that the first ever Tornado Warning for Watauga County occurred on Sunday October 8, 2017 at 6:29pm. That warning was specifically for Southeastern Watauga County. The last Tornado Watch issued for the High Country occurred on Monday October 23, 2017 before that Wednesday May 24, 2017, October 14, 2014 and Sunday July 27, 2014.
According to records at the National Climatic Data Center there have been three recorded tornadoes in the area.
1965 – Avery County: A F2 tornado was documented on April 9, 1965, measuring in length .50 miles and 300 yards wide. Property damage was recorded at $25.0K
1996 – Watauga County: A F1 tornado was documented on April 20, 1996 around 1pm in the Tweetsie Railroad parking lot. Measuring in length .1 mile and 20 yards wide. 1 of the 2 injuries reported was a man that suffered a broke rib after being lifted into the air by the tornado and then dropped. 16 vehicles were damaged and property damage was recorded at $50.0K
1998 – Zionville (Watauga County): A F0 tornado was documented on June 3, 1998 around 7:17pm, measuring in length 2 miles and 60 yards wide. 3 inch hail was reported along with the high winds. Trees were reported down around Ayersville, blocking several roads, large trees and power lines in Glendale Springs, large trees in Meat Camp, trees in Mt Airy blocking some roads, trees in Reidsville,and trees and tree limbs causing power outages from 3.5 miles west of Zionville to 1 mile south of Todd. Numerous trees were toppled throughout Wilkes County, knocking down some power lines with 3300 people losing power. A tornado from five and a half miles west to three and a half miles west Zionville in the western part of Watauga County destroyed a few barns and toppled trees and tree limbs causing power outages. Property damage was recorded at $20.0K
2017 – Sunday October 8 – EF1 tornado in Wilkes and Ashe counties. The tornado touched down as an EF1 near Highway 421 close to Harley, in Wilkes County and traveled close to 7 miles north to Idlewild in southern Ashe County. Most of the damage consisted of snapped trees, with half a dozen structures suffering minor damage, mainly along Summit Road, just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway in northwest Wilkes County. The tornado damage path was at its widest here, which was 300 yards, with most of the damage 150 yards or less. The tornado crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway just southwest of Elderberry Lane then crossed Phillips Gap road, downing large pine trees. The tornado lifted near Idlewild Road at 7pm after snapping a few tree trunks.
Wilkes County has recorded 7 tornadoes, with the most recent on Sunday October 8, 2017, before that was September 5, 2011. Caldwell County has recorded 10 tornadoes, with the most recent on Sunday October 8, 2017 (two warned storms that day), before that January 11, 2012.
A breakdown of the number of Tornado Watches & Warnings per county from January 1, 1986 until October 8, 2017:
Ashe County – 15 watches, 9 warnings
Avery County – 25 watches, 1 warning (July 27, 2014)
Watauga County – 15 watches, 1 warning (Sunday October 8, 2017)
Wilkes County – 21 watches, 18 warnings
Graphic & radar image showing first issued Tornado Warning for Watauga County.
The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center compiled a map of tornadoes by county from 1952-2010. Watauga, Avery, Wilkes and the neighboring Tennessee counties are in the 10 and under category, Ashe is at 0. Click on any map for a larger image.
Map from ustornadoes.com