This graphic from the National Weather Service shows the tornado warning area at 8 p.m. Jan. 25

By Peter Vankevich

Ocracoke gets its share of weather alerts, but it is not often that one is an imminent tornado warning. Wednesday evening, Ocracoke had two within an hour.

Fortunately, they were just warnings — but disturbing nevertheless — although one islander said her radar tracker showed a tornado had moved along the eastern side of Jackson Circle and then swerved over to the Lifeguard Beach area.

Ocracoke stormy weather Jan. 25 2023. Photo: P. Vankevich

Erik Heden, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Newport/Morehead City, said Thursday morning that the warnings likely were for waterspouts that may have come onshore.

He emphasized the importance of the warnings, especially in the darkness of night when people are unable to see the danger.

Officially tracking tornadoes requires damage surveys to establish a path, its length, width, start and end and to assess the top wind speed, he said.

The National Weather Service had issued a weather watch Monday morning to eastern North Carolina that a strong front would bring the threat of damaging wind gusts, severe thunder storms and isolated tornadoes on Wednesday into Thursday morning.

The winds picked up on Wednesday afternoon and as darkness settled in, heavy rains hit Ocracoke.

The NWS graphic for the 9 p.m. tornado warning Jan. 25.

When it seemed that the weather system would move on, many people received an audio warning on their phones issued 8:13 pm that a tornado was heading to Ocracoke. The system was moving rapidly, and the danger would last only until 8:30 p.m.

The audio message urged people to seek shelter in the middle inside buildings.

A second warning came on 9:01 p.m. with the threat lasting until 9:30 p.m. Local television stations broke into regularly scheduled programming to track a series of severe weather and possible tornados.

Islander Anne Becker said she has lived through hurricanes in the Caribbean and the South most of her life. “So, I just know like when the alarm goes off to take it seriously,” she said in an email.  She and her husband Andy did so.

“We had two humans, three cats, and three parrots crammed into a bathroom,” she said. “We have a tree down and a few inches [of rain] bobbing about under the house.”

Follow ups in the mornings found there was no sign that a tornado had struck the village. Becker’s examination of the downed tree in daylight indicated that it fell from a combination of high wind and soaking soil. “It kind of just leaned but it didn’t snap,” she said.

Islander Mitzi Crall, who lives on the waterfront on the Ocracoke Inlet side, said the outside got deathly quiet for a moment and the dog got a little “wonky,” but there was no tornado.

“We were paying attention,” she said, noting that a friend of hers off island texted that the tornado was zeroing in on Ocracoke. “Quite a few water spots are seen from here, but it was dark. We didn’t see anything.” Crall said she grew up in tornado country and so takes warnings seriously.

“But this appeared to stay in the clouds,” she said. “A lot of them stay in the clouds.”

Wednesday evening evoked a song by Coyote, Lou Castro and Marcy Brenner.