Cloud Burst

Cloudburst in topton

This spring the southern highlands of Appalachia have lived up to the temperate rain forest designation given to them by scientists and the like. The extra moisture our mountains have received over the last several months has made for an unbelievable bloom season.

Everywhere I go I hear stories like: “We’ve lived in our house for 7 years and the apple trees in the yard have never bloomed, but this year we have so many apples who knows what we’ll do with them all.” It’s much the same around the Blind Pig house. Some of my bushes are so laden with blooms they have fallen under the weight. And everywhere you look its a jungle of green which after cutting seems to grow to knee high overnight.

Another thing I’ve heard being talked about a lot is cloud bursts. I’ve heard the term cloud burst since I was a kid. One frightening story I remember from my Lake Logan days: the caretaker of the grounds told me about a cloud burst that happened farther up the river when he was young that washed houses away and even washed some people over the dam-specifically a lady who still had her gown(d) on.

One night last week me and the girls left home with barely a sprinkle falling headed to dance at the folk school. By the time we reached the folk school only a couple of miles away it was raining so hard you could barely see, the ditches where filled to overflowing, and there were mini-rivers everywhere. By the time we got out of the car and walked across the road to the Keith House the rain was gone that’s a cloud burst: a heavy amount of rain in a very short amount of time.

The Travel WNC, a project of Hunter Library Digital Programs and Special Collections at Western Carolina University, shares the following article about cloud burst from 1905:


“Over 100 Passengers Cooped Up All Night on the Murphy Branch – Numerous Washouts On Account of Cloudburst. Special to The Observer.

“Asheville, July 12. – A special this afternoon from Andrews, on the Murphy branch says: Heavy rain, practically a cloud-burst, last night caused numerous washouts, flooding the track over two feet for half a mile, near Topton. A number of trestle supports were carried away, paralyzing traffic. Train No. 19 stalled in a tunnel five miles east of Andrews. Over a hundred were on board all night. The trestle at the east entrance of the tunnel gave way on the passing of the rear coach, and ditching was narrowly avoided. The train was brought to a stop in the tunnel. Investigation ahead revealed another washed-out bridge 50 feet from the west end of the tunnel. The train is still unable to proceed either way. The coaches were packed with people, two in a seat, some standing all night. Many women and children attending the Topton barbecue were aboard. A majority of the passengers walked to Andrews over the flooded tracks for breakfast. The wires are crippled.”

– Charlotte Observer, July 13, 1905


*Source: Travel WNC is a project of Hunter Library Digital Programs and Special Collections at Western Carolina University

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  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    June 26, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Ran into cloud bursts Monday and Tuesday this week,, we went under a flash flood watch Monday,, like you said raining so hard had to slow down to a crawl.. Been good for the gardens around here thou..

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 25, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    Yep, I am familiar with the concept of a cloud burst.

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    June 25, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    Anyone ever heard of a toad strangler for a downpour? I remember our Dad saying that once or twice.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    June 25, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    It’s been wonderfully rainy here in the NC sandhills this Spring. I swear the tobacco in the fields jumped a foot just in the last week. I LOVE the rain and don’t much mind thunder, but I’ve always said, “God can keep the lightning, high winds and hail, if He pleases.” Not that He asks me. LOL
    We haven’t had much but downpours, but a week ago, we did have high winds that took down many trees and left us without power for 30 hours. We lost a few shingles that we had to have replaced, but thank God we had no serious damage.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    June 25, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    After reading today’s post on CLOUD BURSTS, I want to share an unforgettable childhood experience. It was in August, 1943, when we were awaken before daylight by the loud voice a neighbor. It was my Uncle Jim Robbins, in a very excited voice, telling us, “The Tuckaseegee River is out of banks as a result of a Cloud Burst!”
    We joined other neighbors with flashlights and lanterns, making our way to the swollen river bank! Walking along our farmland, we could not see much other than a few cows, chickens, and a GIANT 1000 pound Hog which had been washed ashore on my Dad’s farm – which was bounded by the River.
    Although it had rained for several days, the Cloud Burst had occurred about ten miles up River. It was with such force it removed large areas of mountain sides along with several homes.
    Our little town of East LaPort was damaged by flood waters which measured TWENTY FEET above flood level! The major business in East LaPort was the BLACKWOOD LUMBER COMPANY. This company had steam driven locomotives, one of which carried cargo to Sylvia, NC. The tresels along with the tracks were heavily damaged. Most all the bridges along Highway 107 were washed out.
    The most evident long term damage was to homes along the River, which were filled with large amounts of silt. It took a great deal of labor and much time to clean the houses. They had to be repaired and brought back to better conditions.
    The memories of this act of Nature will always stay in the minds of those who witnessed it. The “Sylvia Herald News” archives contain many details and photographs of this event.
    Jim Wike
    Oak Ridge, TN

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    June 25, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Well Tipper, you CLOUD BURST topic reminded me of what is going on up in Canada. Those beautiful little cities (i.e. Calgary)are being washed away. Jim and I were there a few years ago – on a ‘cross country’ train trip! – now it would be so sad to see the results of all that rain!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Carol Isler
    June 25, 2013 at 11:33 am

    All this blossoming has been good for the honeybees. Mine seem to be making lots of honey and new bees, recovering from some effects of CCD, I reckon. I hope we have a bumper honey crop.
    We had a cloud burst last evening while the sun was shining. I was hoping for a rainbow, but didn’t get one.

  • Reply
    June 25, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Back in the 30’s, my daddy and mama
    lived in the Nantahala Gorge, just
    before you get to the Hewitt’s
    Quarry. One night just after dark
    they heard a rushing water sound
    above their house, daddy grabbed
    two of my oldest brothers and mama
    grabbed the youngest and ran out
    on a small ridge. Mama said you
    could hear the chickens squawking
    as the water took everything down
    the holler, including the house.
    Daddy called it a gulley-washer
    or cloud burst.
    In your opening read, the tunnel
    5 miles east of Andrews, I’ve been
    inside that thing many times when
    I was a kid. It’s just behind
    Buster Conley’s place, across from
    the lower end of Red Marble Road.
    We fished down Valley River, stole
    from folks’ gardens and even parched corn between the tracks
    inside that tunnel…Ken

  • Reply
    June 25, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Ed-YES I hear that expression on a regular basis from The Deer Hunter LOL!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    June 25, 2013 at 9:36 am

    I should have previewed my comments. Those were fawns not does prancing around in the morning sun.
    What I wanted to ask Deer Hunter and Jim etc…How common is it for
    a doe to have triplets? This is a large doe as I said. We also have a large Buck roaming around, and of course others…I just hope the coyotes don’t feast on the small runt fawn!
    I’m sorry Tipper about interfearing with the cloudburst theme, but what I am seeing is this Spring early Summer is like a blessing of growth. The birds have doubled and singing and going into their second nesting.
    We are even have more rabbits, since the coyotes have raided ours the last few years…
    I just love it when Spring and Summer come together like in the olden days…
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    June 25, 2013 at 9:27 am

    We usually have quite a few baby frogs and toads…but this year they have fallen from the sky! I really hate to walk in the yard for fear of steppin’ on them. Some are light reddish brown, some a week or so later or brown, etc. The husband mows slow so not to chop them up…ewwww and we have had frog-strangler rains.
    Tell Deer Hunter that he would give up his gun for a little while at least if he could have seen my backyard the other morning at 8:45 AM…Our place is a jungle surround except for the back yard where the husband mows.
    The morning sun and dew were sparkling about the shadows. All of a sudden, I thought I saw something run across from wood to wood. Suddenly it came across back to the wood on the other side, then two, then three. The does pranced and jumped one ran all the way up to the large back window. I was mesmerized! They were beautiful. There was one little runt and two about the same size. We watched finally getting our camera rolling. About that time the biggest doe we had ever seen came out of the edge of the woods, walked across and down into the old garden growth. Her babies jumping and in front and following her. We had a short burst of rain that morning, and the sun sparkling on the dewy grass was like a Disney movie.
    Everything is growing! LOL
    And we have spent a gazillion dollars on keepin’ the deer out of our new garden spot! LOL
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 25, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Pardon the language but have you heard the expression “it rained like pouring piss out of a boot?”
    Its been raining like that here the past several days.

  • Reply
    June 25, 2013 at 8:15 am

    The rain has made everything so green and bursting with growth. I have had to do some early pruning to keep my landscaping under control. However, ‘cloud bursts’ were always quite common in South FL especially toward late afternoon caused by the heat of the day. Mother Nature has been good to us this spring.

  • Reply
    June 25, 2013 at 8:13 am

    I recall being caught in many of those cloudbursts. When we served out West (Arizona and Utah) if you heard a clap of thunder up on the mountain while you were down in a dry wash you knew to move to high ground to avoid the flash flood coming. It could be dry as a bone without a cloud to be seen and you could suddenly be in water waist high. I was also gaught in a cloudburst in the Topton area one time with huge hail for about 20 minutes. We parked under a bridge to wait it out.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 25, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Like you, Tipper, I’m also in Western North Carolina so I’m also having lots of rain and frequent cloud bursts. Everything is green and lush but a bit soggy too. It’s also been a little cooler this spring….more like I remember the mountains being. I have really enjoyed our lovely cool nights recently!
    Reading your article from WCU makes me wonder, in 1905 was it really extraordinarily heavy rain or was the train track not as substantial as they are now….maybe both. LOL
    I don’t like to even think about being stuck in a railroad car full of people, in a tunnel all night. That’s a little too much togetherness for my comfort.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    June 25, 2013 at 7:57 am

    “Cloud burst,” “water spout,” “gully washer,” “downpour,” and “raining cats and dogs” were all common terms for us in Choestoe when our rainy seasons set in. I remember my mother and I were hoeing corn in “the Stephens Field,” a new acreage my father had added to our farm holdings, and a “cloud burst” came, finding us very vulnerable and extremely soaked, and wondering how we would get through the suddenly flooded bottomland to the house. I can never remember being so drenched as that again–and so frightened by such a sudden storm. But my dear mother stayed calm, even though we were both soaked through and through and also nearly knee-deep in mud as we waded through those wet fields! This summer, so far, even in Milledgeville, we’ve had an abundance of rains! Nearly every late afternoon the dark clouds gather and the pelting rains come.
    But we can’t very well change the weather patterns!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    June 25, 2013 at 7:56 am

    My Dad just told the story the other day about the time around 1940 (he went in the Navy in early 1941) when Jackson County, NC got a rain and flash flooding that took out most of the bridges along the Nantahala River. There were lots of casualties.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    June 25, 2013 at 7:31 am

    Before leaving for a 2-week trip recently, my garden was in great shape weed-wise and in decent shape vegetable-wise. I’ve now been back three full days and it’s been too wet to set foot in. The vegetables look good, but the weeds are looking better.
    “Water spout” is a term that mountain folks use to describe an intense but very localized downpour. That’s what Pearl Cable used to describe the rain that fell on the right fork of Pilkey Creek (Coot’s Cove) one night in the early 1940’s. Very little rain fell on the main (left) fork of the creek, but Coot’s Cove was devastated. The left fork carried so much water that even though it is but a tributary, it washed out the bridge on the main Pilkey Creek downstream from the confluence. It carried off houses and cattle – including a cow that was deposited 10 or 15 feet up in a tree.
    This is a little branch which even a 60+ year old feller with a backpack can jump across normally. But take a look at the results of the water spout in the photo taken by TVA which I uploaded to the link below.

  • Reply
    steve in tn
    June 25, 2013 at 7:30 am

    Cloud bursts must be like what I grew up calling gully washers. We had a few this spring. Also called pond fillers. Need a soaker now but we have to take them as they come.’

  • Reply
    June 25, 2013 at 6:19 am

    Don’t know that we need a cloud brust as much as we could use a good slow soaker. It’s dry here and what little rain we’ve had is long gone. The only good thing about it turning off hot & dry is that I won’t be mowing the yard nearly as often.

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