BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Preliminary data from the National Weather Service indicated the tornado was a “high-end” EF-3 with estimated wind speeds of 160+ miles per hour, making it one of the strongest tornadoes to ever hit southeastern North Carolina.
Three people died and 10 people were injured as the tornado ripped through 22 miles of Brunswick and Columbus counties on February 15, 2021 between 11:34 p.m. and 12:02 a.m. February 16, 2021.
According to the NWS, the tornado initially touched down as an EF-0 near Kingsmill Court in the Sea Trail Golf Resort near Sunset Beach, damaging a number of trees with wind speeds estimated to have reached 80 mph.
The tornado strengthened as it moved northeastward and crossed a swampy area north of NC Highway 179 (Old Georgetown Rd). When the tornado reached NC Highway 904 (Seaside Rd), it intensified to an EF-2 and destroyed a large metal building and overturned a number of RVs. Wind speeds here were estimated to have reached 115 mph.
Continuing northeastward, the tornado crossed Saw Pit Swamp and entered the Ocean Ridge Plantation community with wind speeds up to 125 mph. It strengthened to its maximum intensity of around 160 mph as it approached Cambria Court SW. Two homes were completely destroyed in this area and several more sustained major damage.
“Here the tornado became exceptionally powerful as it damaged or destroyed a large number of well-built brick homes. Wind speeds of at least 165 mph are inferred to have occurred as several homes suffered complete destruction of all walls. Debris from one home was swept completely clear of the foundation,” the NWS stated.
The tornado then crossed US Highway 17 near the entrance to Ocean Ridge Plantation, destroying a double-wide mobile home on the north side of Highway 17 with wind speeds estimated near 110 mph. The tornado continued moving northeastward through the woods and approached Green Bay Road NW and Old Shallotte Road NW.
“NWS storm survey crews noted hundreds of downed trees along the tornado’s path along with unusual damage to large metal power poles that were leaning. Wind speeds of at least 115 mph were needed to create this degree of damage,” according to the NWS.
The tornado finally lifted approximately three miles east of Hwy 211 after passing west of the Bear Pen Airstrip.
According to an additional update from the NWS Wednesday evening, a microburst occurred west of the Bear Pen Airstrip at 11:57 p.m. separate from the tornado that devastated Ocean Ridge Plantation. The microburst, which only lasted a minute, damaged a few hundred trees in southwest Delco.
The NWS survey of this storm is still pending final review.