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Strong winds and heavy rains pummel Western North Carolina from major storm system

Soggy streets in downtown Asheville Tuesday morning as heavy rain
Helen Chickering/BPR
Soggy streets in downtown Asheville Tuesday morning.

This is a developing story and will be updated. You can find the latest forecast from the National Weather Service here.

Tuesday January 9:

4:30 p.m.

The Town of Canton in Haywood County has issued a flood warning for low lying areas. Citizens in those areas are advised to be prepared to evacuate if water levels continue to increase. Canton was hit by a deadly flooding and landslides that killed six people in 2021. The clean up in Haywood County has been a slow process.

The town has also been working hard to deal with the closure of the Pactiv Evergreen papermill earlier this year.

Mayor Zeb Smathers called on locals to prepare on Monday before the storm.

"I ask each of you to make sure that you make necessary preparations including checking on your neighbors and being aware to local forecasts and alerts. Again, there are knowns and unknowns, but I know that the people of Haywood County are ready once again to respond together…," Smathers said on Twitter.

11:30 a.m. The National Weather Service has issued flash flood warnings for several counties in the BPR listening area including Buncombe County until 5 p.m. According to the NWS statement, emergency management reported flooding and swift water rescues in the Candler area. No details have been released. Between 2.5 and 4 inches of rain have fallen in the area and the NWS warns that additional flooding remains possible on pretty much any tributary of the French Broad River, especially along Hominy Creek.

Flash Flood warnings have also been issued for:

McDowell until 5 p.m.
Transylvania until 6 p.m
Henderson until 6 p.m.
Polk until 7:15 p.m.
Madison until 7:15 p.m.
Mitchell until 7:15 p.m.
Yancey until 7:15 p.m.

The City of Asheville is providing rolling updates on severe weather impacts to city services and programs, along with the latest road closures. The site also includes a list of emergency contacts and other resources.

In Macon County, U.S. 64/Highlands Rd along the Cullasaja Gorge has been closed. Drivers are asked to use Buck Creek as a detour. Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor sent out an email newsletter explaining that the closure is due to a washout.

"Due to a wash out, the Gorge Road is CLOSED until further notice," Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor wrote in an email.
Courtesy of Pat Taylor
"Due to a wash out, the Gorge Road is CLOSED until further notice," Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor wrote in an email.

9:30 a.m. Governor Cooper signed an order declaring a state of emergency across North Carolina because of the severe weather. A strong low pressure system arrived in Western North Carolina Monday evening, bringing heavy rain and winds. Most schools across Western North Carolina announced delayed starts or closures. The Eastern Band of Cherokee tribal departments are also operating on a delayed start.

A winter weather advisory has expired, but a wind advisory remains in effect for most of WNC, along with a flood watch. You can find the latest updates from the National Weather Service here.

National Weather Service

Scattered power outages caused by fallen trees are starting to show up on the Duke Power outage map.

In Cherokee County, a landslide has been reported by NC DOT. “A landslide on Harshaw Rd. occurred near the Murphy Power substation, blocking both lanes of traffic. The North Carolina Department of Transportation is responding, and will work to clear the road as soon as possible. Drivers need to avoid this area until further notice,” Murphy Mayor Tim Radford posted to Facebook. Landslides are most common in the mountain region of North Carolina because of steep slopes, according to the DOT. Here’s a state guide on how to recognize a landslide.

Many roadways are also flooded due to heavy rain. The motto, “Turn around, don’t drown” is advised when water is covering a roadway. In Macon County, water on the road has been reported in Cartoogechaye, at the intersection of West Old Murphy Road and Dalrymple Road and Cullasaja River Road, according to Macon Media. There are also reports of weather related road closures in Henderson and Transylvania counties, according to NC DOT. Find conditions for roads in your area here.

Monday January 8:
The large and strong low pressure systemthat has prompted blizzard warnings in the Midwest is expected to bring heavy rain and damaging winds to much Western North Carolina for a 24 hour period beginning Monday evening.

“The main threats are going to be excessive rainfall, and prolonged periods of gusty winds that will really begin to pick up after midnight, meteorologist Jeffrey Taylor, a forecaster with the National Weather Service at Greenville-Spartanburg Airport told BPR. “The combination of wet soil and gusty winds could bring down trees and there could be power outages.”

Taylor said rainfall predictions vary across the region from just under two inches in northern portions of Buncombe County to more than five inches in parts of Henderson, Transylvania and Southern Jackson Counties. The heaviest rain is expected to fall between 6 a.m. and noon on Tuesday. A flood watch is in effect for Macon, Jackson, Transylvania, Henderson, and Polk Counties in the BPR listening area, with threats highest along rivers, streams and other low-lying areas.

A wind advisory is in effect for all of Western North Carolina. Taylor said winds will start picking up late Monday evening and will range from 20-30 mpg, and gusts up to 55 mph in Buncombe County up to 75 mph in elevations above 3,500 feet in Graham, Haywood, Madison, Mitchell, Northern Jackson, Swain, and Yancey Counties, where wind warnings are in place.

And while power outages and downed trees remain the biggest concern, ice may be an issue for some. A number of counties are under a winter weather advisory. Taylor says Avery, Mitchell, Yancey and parts of McDowell Counties are most likely to see light icing. Buncombe County is included in the advisory, but Taylor said he doesn’t expect the county will see much in terms of frozen precipitation. “Again, the biggest threat we’re expecting is downed trees and power outages.”

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.
Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.