Final update. While the Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” a tornado-like microburst was something Weston Scouts weren’t prepared for at ConnJam, a mini Boy Scout jamboree held last weekend at the Orange Fairgrounds in Orange.
The weather was warm and sunny on Saturday, May 12, the second of the three-day ConnJam event. At 12:15 p.m., many of the 3,500 participants were resting in their tents or having lunch when a huge gust of wind hit suddenly.
Jeff Sears and David Iocaponi, assistant scoutmasters with Weston Troop 788, were at a refreshment stand ordering something to eat when Mr. Sears said he turned and saw a huge funnel-shaped wind sucking up papers, cups and napkins from one of the pavilions.
“It was a circular tornado-like wind, several hundred feet tall and about a hundred feet wide, and all these paper goods were flying in the air,” he said.
The wind quickly swept over an inflatable obstacle course and bounce-house type slide that Scouts were playing on, knocking the inflatables over and onto two boys. Then, just as quickly as the wind gust appeared, it dissipated and was gone.
Mr. Sears and others who were nearby rushed quickly toward the obstacle course and lifted it off the boys who were trapped underneath. He then put shade canopies over the boys whose legs appeared to be injured. “They were in pain and shock,” Mr. Sears said.
Because there were EMS crews already onsite for the event, the boys were quickly stabilized and transported to the hospital. Mr. Sears said he also saw a woman walk by with a gash on her head. In all, 10 people were reported injured and six or seven were sent to the hospital.
“I’ve seen tornadoes before in midwest — Kansas and driving across Texas. But I’ve never seen anything like this where you have a perfectly calm day and then a massive circular funnel comes out of nowhere,” Mr. Sears said.
Authorites say the wind gust was a “microburst,” a strong downdraft with a rush of damaging winds on or near the ground. Microbursts are similar to tornadoes and are quick-hitting and capable of extreme damage.
They occur when cool air descends to the ground and accelerates, mixing with dry air. High winds from microbursts can be dangerous and can knock over fully grown trees.
Microbursts are often associated with windshear conditions that can be responsible for airplane disasters. Due to their small size and short life span, microbursts are not easily detectable using conventional weather radar or wind shear alert systems.
Witnesses at ConnJam say the microburst lasted only around 10 seconds. After it subsided, the event went on as planned.
No one from Weston was injured in the microburst, said Troop 788 Assistant Scoutmaster Rick Phillips, who was there with his son Teddy. He said most of the 12 Weston Scouts in attendance were in their tents when it happened. “It surprised us and happened so quickly,” he said.
Phone calls were made soon afterwards to Weston parents to let them know everyone was all right. “This is certainly something the Scouts will never forget,” Mr. Phillips said.