Winds turn New Castle campground into ‘war zone’

Alex Zorn

This camper trailer barely withstood the impact of a tree felled by strong winds Monday at a New Castle campground.
Provided |

On the first month of their five-month vacation, Betty and Al Wetherbee came out to New Castle’s Elk Creek Campground for what they thought would be a nice trip into the mountains. Mother Nature had other plans.

On Monday afternoon strong winds were reported throughout Garfield County, including speeds up to 90 mph at Douglas Pass, but few places were hit harder than the campground.

“It was like a bomb zone, and you just needed to get out of the way,” said Tom Martin, who’s from the Roaring Fork Valley and camped at the Creek Monday night. “I’ve never seen winds like this before, and I lived in Florida for 14 years.”

The morning after the storm, uprooted trees were scattered around the campground, some up to 70 feet tall. Despite some property damage, the seven campers who stayed the night were simply grateful nobody was injured. None more so than Betty and Al Wetherbee.

During the storm, both were sitting in their camper. By the time it ended, both were happy to be alive.

The strong winds snapped as many as five massive pine trees, one of which would have collapsed on top of the Wetherbees had it not been for their camper.

“We were just sitting around and all the sudden I was knocked onto the ground with such force,” Betty Wetherbee explained. “Thank God the camper was sturdy because we could have been crushed. We couldn’t get out and thought we would have to climb through a window.”

Fortunately, a neighboring camper was able to move some of the branches to clear room for Betty and Al to get out. Still, the camper was totaled.

“As much as I want to cry, we are happy to be alive,” Al Wetherbee said.

In fact, the two believe that had it not been for two very well-made jacks, they wouldn’t be recounting their story today. By Monday, the jacks were bent nearly to the point where both ends were touching.

“The last thing you expect in the mountains is hurricane winds,” Betty said.

Dennis Phillips, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said that the storm was likely the result of gap winds.

“Depending on where the campground was and the wind funnel it created, you can definitely have increased velocities,” he said.

While weather service reports show that winds were recorded to be at 31 mph at 7:21 p.m. Monday, it is clear from the aftermath at the campground that something more intense hit there.

Darla Dean, who helps out at the campground, estimated that the storm started around 5 p.m., and all the trees fell within 45 minutes.

“It was like we were in a war zone,” Dean said. “At least we’ve got firewood for a while, I guess.”

Workers were clearing up the fallen trees. The campground is open for camping for the rest of the summer. While nobody was injured, the damage to the Wetherbee camper was substantial, and they are looking for someone to assess the damage and see if it can be salvaged.

Anyone looking for more information on the campground or to help out the couple should call the campground at 970-984-2240. The campground will need help to clear out the trees.

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