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The dust devil that hit the Bassett Heritage Festival came on a sunny, pleasant fall day.
Courtesy Anne Marie Freeman
Tents lie in twisted heaps after a whirlwind hit the Bassett Heritage Festival on Saturday. There were no serious injuries.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
It came from out of the clear blue sky.
Really, it did — a sudden whir of autumn air and dust, funneled directly at the small Bassett Heritage Festival held Saturday in a field southwest of Bassett in Henry County.
Tents started to shake. Cellphones flew from the hands of their owners. Pat Ross, who works as the director of the Bassett Historical Center, said she watched her husband struggle to keep his two feet on the ground.
“My husband was trying to hold on to the end pole of a tent so it wouldn’t go anywhere,” Ross said, “but it got away from him and something raised him off the ground and then slammed him into the ground.
“It had not been raining, the sun was out, there was a nice breeze,” she added. “It wasn’t that hot. It was just a really nice, fall day. And then, all the sudden, it just happened.”
According to a National Weather Service forecaster based in Blacksburg, the event was an anomaly, a rare dust devil that materialized in a perfect storm of conditions that day. Such occurrences are the norm in the arid deserts of the American West, but pop-up funnel clouds in the East are few and far between.
The miniature twister pushed wind speeds close to an estimated 40 mph. It overturned tables and collapsed tents, eventually hitting a row of garbage cans, where it picked up leftover pancakes, paper plates and coffee grounds, Ross said.
“All that just went into the air, and they just whirled around in the sky and up over the trees,” she said.
All told, emergency workers treated six people for minor injuries. At least one was taken to the hospital.
“We were very lucky to have gotten out of there with just minor things happening,” Ross said.
Carlton Wilkes of Boones Mill said he and his band, the Coastal Cruzers, had just finished a set of beach music when he noticed something come from the left and barrel into the line of spectators in front of the stage.
“We heard the noise but we didn’t really see anything that looked like it rotated other than what was being spun,” he said. “That went on for a couple of minutes. It picked up some dust and after that you could see the funnel cloud.”
He said he watched as the small twister caught several foam plates, spinning them up and up.
“The plates were so high in the sky, they were out of sight before it finally left our view,” Wilkes said. “It was scary. It just came completely unexpected.”
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