Event Summary
     National Weather Service,
     Raleigh NC

November 22, 1992 North Carolina Tornado Outbreak
Updated 2007/11/18


North Carolina was hit hard by a total of 5 tornadoes from the late evening hours of November 22, 1992 through daybreak on November 23, 1992. These tornadoes were a part of a large, late season tornado outbreak that affected much of the southeastern part of the United States from Houston, Texas across portions of the Gulf Coast states and Ohio Valley to the Carolinas. In North Carolina alone, two persons were killed and 74 were injured. There were also 110 homes and 7 businesses destroyed across the state. An additional 600 homes and several other businesses were damaged, resulting in over 9 million dollars in damage.

The tornado outbreak began in eastern Texas during the afternoon of November 21. The severe weather then spread east across Louisiana and Mississippi during the early morning hours of November 22. The storms moved northeast and produced additional tornadoes across Alabama, Georgia, and into western North Carolina during the afternoon and evening on November 22. The last tornado was reported in central and eastern North Carolina during the early morning of November 23.

Synoptic Weather Pattern

Data from the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) shows that an anomalously deep 500 mb trough was located over central Texas on the evening of November 21, 1992. As the day of November 22nd progressed, the upper low ejected out of Texas as it became negatively tilted and moved into the Ohio Valley. Strong southwesterly flow developed ahead of the shortwave energy and helped to push a warm front well north of central North Carolina. A strong cold front moved into central North Carolina during the evening of the 22nd and cleared the coast by the morning of the 23rd. It was ahead of this front that the air mass become unstable enough to produce severe thunderstorms. There was also sufficient wind shear in place to result in tornadic activity. Surface lifted indices of -4C to -5C were noted immediately ahead of the approaching cold front. This allowed middle to upper 60 dew point air to spread into the affected area with precipitable water values climbing to 1.5 inches (nearly 300% above the normal November value). Surface observations from across central NC reported temperatures in the low 70s with south winds at 10-15 mph with higher gusts. Most locations also reported mostly cloudy to cloudy skies with cloud bases at or below 2,000 ft. This moist air mass and resultant low lifting condensation levels (LCLs) were favorable for the development of tornadoes.

Timeline of Events

The first set of tornadoes occurred across the southwestern Piedmont of North Carolina northeast into the northwest Piedmont and foothills area during the late evening hours on November 22. A cluster of supercell thunderstorms formed over Cleveland County and moved northeast through Hickory, Statesville, Winston-Salem and Danbury between 1015 PM and 1230 AM. The first tornado (F0) touched down at 1015 PM in Cleveland County near Belwood, followed by another tornado (F1) that tracked across northeastern Catawba County into Iredell County. The tornado took a track from near Catawba, to south of Olin, to near Turnersburg. The final tornado in this small family of tornadoes touched down in southeastern Yadkin County, then raced northeast across eastern Yadkin, northwestern Forsyth, and into central Stokes County. Although there were 15 injuries associated with these tornadoes, there were no fatalities.

The second tornado event started as a large but isolated supercell formed over Chatham County before 200 AM, then moved northeast across Orange and Durham Counties between 200 AM and 300 AM. The thunderstorm spawned an F3 tornado touching down near the I-40/I-85 split and tracking northeast into a Hillsborough subdivision at around 220 AM. Although this tornado stayed on the ground only 5.5 miles and lasted less than 10 minutes, it produced 2 fatalities and 10 injuries along its path.

The final round of severe weather began when a large supercell thunderstorm developed over eastern Harnett county at around 400 AM. This storm tracked rapidly northeast to near Elizabeth City by around 630 AM. The tornado initially touched down as an F3 tornado at 410 AM between Angier and Coats near the Harnett and Johnston county line. This tornado then moved northeast for 160 miles before lifting (a North Carolina record). The tornado produced a nearly continuous path of F2 and occasionally F3 damage from Wilson Mills in central Johnston County through Wilson, just south of Tarboro in Edgecombe County, through northwest Martin County, across Bertie County including Windsor, finally passing through Chowan, Perquimans, and Pasquotank Counties. In Pasquotank County at Elizabeth City, a school bus in route to school was carried 75 yards, injuring 21 people. The tornado dissipated before crossing the Pasquotank River.


National Weather Service Storm Data

Natural Disaster Survey Report, The Widespread November 21-23, 1992, Tornado Outbreak: Houston to Raleigh and Gulf Coast to Ohio Valley, US Dept. of Commerce, Nov. 1993.

Local National Weather Service Raleigh Storm Data

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