By Justin Caudell
While Cullowhee escaped the brunt of the wild weather the last week of August, it rained and it poured in Cashiers, North Carolina to cause flooding, downed trees and car crashes.
Remnants of Tropical Storm Fay, which made four landfalls through Florida before heading west into Mississippi, were the culprit of the rain. Outer bands from that storm system extended through the Appalachians for most of the week.
According to the Cashiers Area Weather Center, 14.07 inches of rain fell from Monday, Aug. 25 to Friday, Aug. 29. Tuesday saw the heaviest amounts, with 11.10 inches reaching the ground in the single day period. Wind gusts also reached 21mph, although for a brief time, at the height of the storm.
As a result of the heavy rains, downed trees caused 2000 Duke Energy customers to lose power in the Nantahala area. About 900 of the outages were in the Cashiers area alone, according to Duke Energy business relations manager Fred Alexander.
“A very large oak tree fell across Highway 64 and a major Duke power line near the entrance to Sapphire County Club was hit, causing most of the outages around 1:20 pm on Tuesday,” said Alexander. “Service restoration and tree clearing took about three hours.”
Alexander said that there were also four other scattered outages in the Cashiers area last week, but that power was restored quickly, mostly because crews were prepared.
“Over the years, we’ve come to expect falling limbs and trees because of a heavy rain that comes when the soil is very dry,” said Alexander.
Glenville-Cashiers fire Chief Randy Dillard and his crews were also busy last week.
“We were able to keep things moving, even though we were overwhelmed with calls,” said Dillard. “We had plenty of firemen out there to cover all the downed trees and places were flooding occurred. It could have been a lot worse.”
Dillard mentioned that out of all the calls, a car wreck involving a fallen tree and a live power line that was down was the worst. Dillard said that thankfully, no one was injured. An eighteen wheeler also wrecked earlier in the day, but the driver refused treatment.
Due to flooding caused by Fay, Frank Allen Road near the Post Office and Summit Charter School in Cashiers was closed Tuesday afternoon and Meadow Way in Sapphire, which serves as the primary entrance to Fox Hunt, River Chase and The Woods condominiums, was also blocked off. Both roads were re-opened by Wednesday morning.
Because of the rain, high levels of water also made its way into area businesses and buildings. An entrance to Ingles grocery store in Cashiers was closed Tuesday night so water could be cleaned up, and at the same time, the elementary pod at Blue Ridge School was flooded. Blue Ridge School elementary principal Theresa Windburn said no students were in the rooms when the flooding happened.
“It was after school, there were luckily no children there at the time,” said Windburn. “On the playground outside of the four rooms that were affected, a drainage pipe got clogged and a build up of water overflowed into the building. There were no damages and our maintenance department quickly acted on the problem. A lot of the teachers and faculty also pitched in and helped mop up water.”
Windburn said the rooms were operational the next morning and that school opened as normal.
“I had a custodian come in early Wednesday morning after the flooding to make sure everything was dry,” said Windburn.
Despite the negatives of the rain last week, the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay made a significant dent in the drought that has impacted western North Carolina this year, although falling short of ending it according to Ryan Boyles, director of the State Climate Office.
“Rain that falls as quickly as the rain did with Fay can only provide so much benefit,” said Boyles. “A lot of the rain just runs off rather then soaks in the ground.”
The region is currently in the Extreme Drought stage on the United States drought monitor, down from the Exceptional Drought classification last month.
After the rain from Fay, the Cashiers Area Weather Center has Cashiers’ yearly rainfall recorded just shy of 53 inches. Cashiers’ yearly average is 73 inches of rain per year.
(Justin Caudell is primarily the Sports Editor for the Western Carolinian. He will also periodically report on the weather and environment scene for Jackson County).