North Carolina State Fair

State Fair has command center for severe weather

Posted October 19, 2011 4:45 p.m. EDT
Updated October 19, 2011 6:15 p.m. EDT

— If severe weather hits the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, officials have an emergency plan. 

During the North Carolina State Fair, an emergency management command center has been set up to keep track of developing weather with hourly updates from the National Weather Service, live radar maps and a device that warns of nearby lightning.

If severe weather is approaching, crews will put out the word through staff radios and the public address system at the fairgrounds.

Wake County Sheriff’s Maj. Chip Hawley said emergency officials have identified which buildings and tents can sustain high winds.

“All these things have been identified, so we can place people where they’ll be the safest,” he said.

Powers Great American Midways, the company overseeing the rides, said they are secure, inspected and built to operate in wet weather. The rides didn’t budge this summer in New York when an earthquake hit, they said. Last weekend in Goldsboro, high winds only forced a few rides to close.

“We had wind gusts close to 60 miles per hour, which is dramatic. We stopped the taller rides,” said Charlie Belknap of Powers Great American Midways.

The fear of severe weather at fairs became more prevalent after a storm blew threw the Indiana State Fair earlier this year causing a concert stage to collapse, killing seven and injuring dozens. 

"What happened in Indiana did raise our front-of-mind awareness, and it’s very fresh, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’ve been dealing with weather at the fair for years," fair spokesman Brian Long said.

If severe weather hits, the fair does not want fairgoers to run for shelter under any small tents. Officials said people will be ushered to a building or some of the bigger tents, like the Got to Be NC tent, which is built to withstand 70 mph winds.

The fairgrounds also have an emergency plan for when the fair isn't happening. 

When tornadoes hit Raleigh on April 16, fairgrounds police ushered everyone attending the Raleigh Flea Market into the basement of the Dorton Arena.