On July 8, 1997, at about 350 pm EDT, an unusual event took place in Putnam County at Lake Sinclair. A "garden variety" thunderstorm, described by an eyewitness as "mediocre", produced a sudden gust of wind that totally destroyed a building, causing injury to its occupants. The National Weather Service's Gary Davey surveyed the scene and talked to a number of witnesses the following day. His report follows:
The wind Damage to Lakeside Bait and Tackle shop at 1065 Milledgeville Road (Highway U.S. 441), identified in the preliminary storm report as 10SE Eatonton at 350 PM, was downburst wind damage.
I spoke at length with several witnesses. Mr Davis, who was watching the storm approach, said it seemed just a mediocre thunderstorm as it approached from the northwest. No unusual amount of lightning or thunder was heard or seen. Mr Davis said there wasn't any funnel or tornado. He saw some low clouds and described fracto cumulus. Two things he told me were interesting. He saw debris moving in a circle in the sky near the fracto cu and he heard roaring sounds as the storm passed over. His descriptions were good. There probably was circulation involved in the lower levels of the storm, even if that doesn't show up in a review of the Doppler data.
Looking over the damage scene, thunderstorm downburst wind probably occurred over a treeless hilltop area adjacent and west of Highway 441, in Putnam county, just across the Baldwin/Putnam County line. The wind spread out in approximately a 90 degree pattern spreading east to south from the estimated downburst location. The damage area was along Highway 441, from just north of Lakeside Bait and Tackle south to the Georgia Power electricity plant, where a roof was torn off an open area building. The power plant is located at the point where Highway 441 crosses the lake.
The wind first hit another bait and tackle shop on the west side of Highway 441, damaging a low profile roof. It then lifted and pushed a car into the lake, broke off a good sized pine tree and other tree limbs, crossed to the east side of the highway (wind moving generally east and southeast) and punched in the front doors and windows of the Lakeside Bait and Tackle shop, lifting and flipping the roof off to land some one hundred feet or so away. The building, basically cinder block construction, is a total loss.
One lady, co-owner of Lakeside Bait and Tackle, had seven stitches in the back of her head where she was hit by a flying cinder block. Two customers in the store were also injured to a lessor degree.
by Gary Davey and Terry Murphy