While there were only a few isolated storm problems in Mount Airy and much of Surry County, Elkin was hit hard by damaging wind Thursday afternoon.
There, National Weather Service officials are saying powerful straight-line winds caused some significant damage in town. Others, however, are claiming to have seen a funnel cloud reach the ground.
“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.
The rest of the county was largely spared.
“All we’ve had is a few trees blown down,” Surry Emergency Services Director John Shelton said of the situation on the Mount Airy side of the county shortly after 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
This included one tree falling onto U.S. 601 near Temple Baptist Church between Mount Airy and Dobson.
No structural damage had been reported outside of Elkin at that point, Shelton added.
According to Peter Corrigan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Virginia, a strong storm warning had been issued for the area shortly before the storm rolled through the county, but there were no severe storm warnings in this region.
“I don’t think it was a tornado,” Corrigan said of the damage in Elkin. “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.”
A microburst is a small, but very powerful downdraft during strong thunderstorms. Air is pushed straight down, collides with the ground, then pushes outward in straight lines. Someone seeing a downdraft during heavy rain might think it was a tornado funnel.
“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.
“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.”
Shelton 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.
Officials from Duke Energy and the Elkin Rescue Squad were onsite 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. That caused additional issues.
“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.”
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.
Corrigan said the weather service had issued three or four other warnings in other areas of the state.