National Weather Service: Tornado hit Brunswick as 'high end EF3'

Noah Johnson
Wilmington StarNews

5:18 p.m. | National Weather Service believes EF3 tornado hit county 

The National Weather Service announced the Brunswick County tornado has been rated as a high-end EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita damage scale.

Winds are estimated to have been at 160 mph, according to a social media post made by the weather service late Tuesday.

More:Brunswick County officials discuss 'hazardous' tornado and its long-term impact

According to the National Weather Service, the EF scale, or the Enhanced Fujita scale, is used to assign a tornado rating based on estimated wind speeds and related damage. When tornado-related damage is surveyed, it's compared to a list of damage indicator and degrees of damage which help better understand the range of wind speeds the tornado likely produced. 

Mark Bacon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said they don't believe they will be able to complete their survey of the area today due to losing daylight. 

Searches and rescue continue, Bacon said, and they are unable to go into those areas due to safety concerns. 

Bacon said the National Weather Service locally is not used to dealing with a tornado of this strength, and the time of year makes it more difficult with shorter says as well. 

National Weather Service surveys damage area

The National Weather Service continues surveying the area of Brunswick County that was devastated by a tornado overnight.

Steve Pfaff, warning coordination meteorologist for Wilmington's National Weather Service, said his team has finished about 10% of a survey aiming to access the tornado that touched down in Brunswick last night. 

More:Brunswick County tornado live updates: 'Serious destruction,' damages across large area

"While we can confirm there was a tornado, we are nowhere near completing the intensity part of the assessment and we don't know where it is on the EF scale," he said.

Though his team is still working on the survey, Pfaff said the tornado might've crossed "a good part" of Brunswick County after hitting the Ocean Ridge Plantation area, which was hardest hit by the storm, and crossing U.S. 17 toward the northern part of the county. 

More:BEMC outage map: Thousands without power after tornado hits Brunswick County

Edward Conrow, director of Brunswick County Emergency Services, said during a noon press conference there were also damages along Old Shallotte Road.

It is still unknown what time the tornado touched down but the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning around 11:33 p.m. Monday and a tornado warning six minutes later. 

Damage from a tornado that touched down late Monday in Brunswick County.

More:Deadly tornado tears through Brunswick County. Here's what we know.

At the time the National Weather Service sent out a tornado alert, the tornado was already on the ground and causing damage, Conrow said during press conference.

Conrow said meteorologist were surprised at how quickly the storm intensified, and Pfaff agreed.

Not only was the tornado moving fast at around 50 mph, Pfaff said, but when looking at radar data, it was "absolutely incredible how quickly it went from a formative rotation to an intense rotation within a matter of minutes."

This kind of situation leaves little time to prepare, he said. 

More:Brunswick County tornado is 'one of the worst ones' in recent years, Red Cross says

"We all hear about hurricanes that have impacted us where we have three-to-five days to prepare but with a tornado in this type of situation, you might only have three-to-five minutes to take action," Pfaff explained. 

Pfaff said his team will continue the survey in the Ocean Ridge Plantation area and the northern part of the county into Tuesday evening. Depending on what his team finds, they may not be able to complete the survey until tomorrow, he said.