November 28, 1988 Raleigh, NC F4 Tornado & Tornado Outbreak

Feb 20, 2018
Raleigh, NC
On November 28, 1988, a devastating F4 tornado made its way through five North Carolina counties. The tornado first touched down at 1:00am in Umstead National Park near Ebenezer Church Road in Northwest Raleigh, Wake County. Two hours later, it dissipated two miles northwest of Jackson, North Carolina in Northampton County. Its track covered 83 miles and was near-continuous. The strongest damage (F3, minimal F4) occurred along a 4-mile stretch extending to the northeast from US Highway 70 (US-70) to 4 miles east of Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU). Numerous businesses along US-70 were destroyed. In total, 426 residential homes and 78 businesses were destroyed. An additional 2,000 residential homes were damaged. 154 injuries and 4 fatalities resulted from this tornado. Of the four fatalities, two were children: 8-year-old Janet Barnes and 12-year-old Peter Fulghum, both from Raleigh.

The Raleigh F4 tornado was one of seven tornadoes that touched down during the outbreak that occurred on November 28, and was the strongest and most deadly of the outbreak. Many survivors who later recounted their ordeal remarked that there had been no warning. In fact, the first tornado watch of the evening wasn't issued until 2am, an hour after the Raleigh F4 had touched down. According to an article from the News & Observer, a deputy meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office at RDU was quoted, saying, "There was no tornado watch in effect at the time the damage occurred in Wake County," and that "radar equipment at RDU could not have picked up the storm... because it developed almost directly over the airport. Interference, known as ground clutter, prevents the radar from picking up storms within about five miles of the airport."

The Raleigh tornado outbreak of November 28, 1988 was responsible for a total of $285 million in damages and the aforementioned injuries and fatalities. In addition to the F4 tornado that originated in Raleigh, one F0, three F1s and two F2s were also recorded.

This tornadic event caught my attention and hits home since it impacted the part of Raleigh that I now call home, and I sincerely hope and pray that history does not have the chance to repeat itself with the Raleigh F4. Having looked at the various mapped paths that the tornado took, both from the SPC and the 'corrected' coordinates based on damage reports, as well as historical aerial photos between 1988 and today (2024), I can tell that there would be more people in harm's way should this event repeat itself.

Below are the articles and sites I read through to gather information about this event: