OLD TOWN — A pair of local outdoor outfitters were among the thousands to weather a fierce tornado that ripped through downtown Salt Lake City on Wednesday afternoon.
Representatives from Old Town Canoe and Byer Manufacturing Co. of Orono were participating in the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in the Western capital when the twister — with winds exceeding 110 miles per hour — touched down.
In a telephone interview from the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Jim Kaiser, kayak manager for Old Town Canoe, said he and the rest of the company’s six-member delegation were just about to enter a sales meeting in the nearby Monaco hotel when there was a distinct change in the weather.
“It got very dark and very windy outside and stuff started flying around. All of a sudden, it was just nuts,” Kaiser said. “[The tornado] was white when it started but as it sucked up everything it got very dark and when it would hit a transformer the whole thing would turn red. It was spectacular.”
The fast-moving funnel cloud, a rare occurrence in Utah, killed one and injured dozens, according to press reports. More than 150 homes were damaged.
The tornado, which ripped a mile-long path through the downtown, passed about a quarter-mile from the hotel in which the Old Town Canoe delegation was meeting, Kaiser said.
The two massive tents meant to house some of the convention’s participants were shredded in the storm, according to Kaiser, who said much of Thursday was spent reassembling booths and relocating vendors who had been located in the tents.
The convention, sponsored by Outdoor Retailer magazine, is one of the largest retail gatherings of its kind, and Wednesday’s forced evacuation hurt those who came to increase their business, Kaiser said.
“A lot of people save up to come out here for this,” Kaiser said. “But things are getting back to nornal now.’
A representative from Byer Manufacturing could not be reached Thursday.