While some in the area believe a tornado touched down, weather officials said it was a microburst of straight-line winds which caused a significant amount of damage in the heart of Elkin Thursday afternoon as afternoon storms rolled through the area, downing street lights and trees and tearing off rooftops.
“We saw a funnel touchdown right there in front of the Vac Store, came right across the cars, took down a light post and vanished as quickly as it hit,” said Sarah Bobbitt. “It’s crazy. Everybody ran into the back of the shop. It was crazy.”
“It just started raining and the wind started blowing and then that building just went that direction,” said Dana Martin at Yadkin Bank.
According to Peter Corrigan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Virginia, a strong storm weather statement had been issued for the area shortly before the storm came through, but there were not severe storm warnings in this region.
“I don’t think it was a tornado, that doesn’t mean straight-line winds couldn’t have come through,” Corrigan said. “There was extremely unstable air east of the mountains as the line of storms came through.”
He said the weather service had issued three or four other warnings in other areas of the state.
John Shelton, director of Surry County Emergency Services, said the majority of the impact of the straight-line winds were in the greater downtown area of Elkin. “We had a metal building on a vehicle, trees down, everything was blowing in one direction,” he said.
Members of Duke Energy and the Elkin Rescue Squad were on site at the railroad crossing on South Bridge Street after part of the old Smith-Phillips Lumber building, which is under construction with renovations, came apart in the wind, knocking out power lines, damaging the railroad crossing and several cars in a nearby parking lot.
“The rooftop of the old Smith-Phillips building flew off and landed on six to eight cars in one of the parking lots,” said Kevin Cheek, captain of the Elkin Rescue Squad. “We secured the area for safety reasons due to powerlines being down in the area. We also had damage to the railroad crossing when a heavy piece of the building came down on it. Some of the building was still stuck in it when we arrived. A lot of the circuit outage for the power company is due to this area. We don’t know how long this area will be shut down. It may be several hours.”
“The National Weather Service confirmed there was a microburst of straight-line winds,” said Shelton of the event that happened around 3:15 p.m.
As far as injuries, he said EMS had responded to one call of a person needing to be checked on at the Elkin Police Department, but he hadn’t received a report on that call. No other injuries were reported.
“These microbursts can get up to 100 miles per hour, but I’m sure these didn’t,” he said. “Even winds at 60 mph can cause a lot damage, these are notorious for that kind of damage.”