Master Trooper Murico Stephens says the tree struck the WYFF-TV vehicle around 2:30 p.m. Monday on U.S. Highway 176 near Tryon. The area received heavy rain from the fringes of Subtropical Storm Alberto.
WYFF-TV says anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer were heading to a story when they were killed.
The two had reported on flooding and severe weather associated with Subtropical Storm Alberto, the television station said.
McCormick and Smeltzer had just interviewed Tryon Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant. They told Tennant to be careful with Alberto's remnant expected to bring more heavy rains and mudslides this week. He told them to be careful too.
"Ten minutes later we get the call and it was them," Tennant said at a news conference, his voice cracking.
The TV vehicle engine's was still running and the transmission was in drive when crews found it. The men died instantly, said Tennant, who called the deaths a "freak of nature."
Anchor Carol Goldsmith said on air that McCormick and Smeltzer were "beloved members of our team - our family."
The tree fell in Polk County not far from where a landslide killed a woman in her home on May 19 after heavy rains.
"Two journalists working to keep the public informed about this storm have tragically lost their lives, and we mourn with their families, friends and colleagues," Gov. Roy Cooper said. "North Carolina needs to take Alberto seriously. I urge everyone to keep a close eye on forecasts, warnings and road conditions, especially in western North Carolina where even heavier rain is predicted through tomorrow."
WYFF is based in Greenville, South Carolina.
WYFF said McCormick "joined the station in April 2007 as a reporter in the Spartanburg newsroom. In 2014, he was also named anchor of WYFF News 4 on Sundays at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m."
Smeltzer was the photographer in the Spartanburg bureau.
He "shot news for more than a decade in our region. He is originally from Tazewell, Virginia and graduated from Radford University with a degree in broadcast video communications."
State Transportation officials expect that U.S. 176 will remain closed until at least Tuesday afternoon between Harmon Field Road and Ozone Drive in Polk County.