Severe downburst wreaks destruction

Published 11:25 am Wednesday, August 14, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

There was maybe a crack of thunder, but not much else in the way of a warning. 

Les Babb and his son Jamie were working on equipment Friday afternoon when it began to rain, hail and then, there was a roar. 

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“All hell broke loose,” said Babb of what was later determined to be a large downburst that struck the farm on Shiloh Drive. 

The winds tore through several buildings, tossed metal roofing onto vehicles, around a power pole and onto a 10,000 gallon tank for diesel fuel. Jamie’s building that he uses as a vegetable stand was upended, looking not unlike the house in the “Wizard of Oz.” 

Les said it lasted no more than two minutes. 

He had been working underneath the cotton picker, and Jamie had been power washing a vehicle. When he realized what was going on, he jumped in a service truck, said Les. 

Meanwhile, Les’s brother, Bryan, was in the house right next to the path of the downburst and reported that it hadn’t been that loud inside, said Les. 

Across the road, Les said his wife got inside a closet as a tree limb fell on the garage. There doesn’t appear to be any damage there, he said. 

Down the road, Sherrell Johnson arrived home to find an old, rotted pine tree on top of one of the family’s cars. Tree limbs wer piled on the ground next to the house, and she was initially worried it had been damaged, but it wasn’t, she said. 

No one was home when the storm blew through, said Johnson. 

Back at Babb Farms, Les said they had to dig out the flatbed truck to get to the excavator to start moving the debris. He credits Farm Bureau for being on the scene immediately on Friday. 

Les’s dad, Jimmy Babb, was at his home on Orbit Road and had no idea of the mayhem occurring on Shiloh Drive. 

Meteorologist-in-Charge Jeff Orrock said the National Weather Service determined the event to be a large downburst, similar to another that hit that day in North Carolina. 

There were two to three storms in the area that became severe, and the Windsor storm was one of them, he said. 

Orrock estimated the winds in Windsor to have been about 50-70 mph. 

Orrock said a downburst occurs when an intense updraft of air builds up a good deal of mass, such as rain and hail high up in the sky, with the core of the storm up around 35,000 feet. 

As the storm descends it accelerates, fed by evaporating rain and melting hail, that cools the air. 

When it nears the ground, the “wind blows out everywhere like a fan pattern,” said Orrock.

A downburst pattern differs from a tornado, which is narrower and more distinct, he said. 

Babb Farms just happened to be where the downburst dropped to earth, he said. 

The trick with this particular downburst is that the sky just had a few clouds, the air was rather dry and there were only a few thunderstorms here and there, said Orrock. 

When downbursts happen in an unpopulated area, such as a marsh, they are not quite so noticeable, he said.