Crazy Desert Winds at the Unveiling of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo

As you know, in addition to being an entertainment technology geek, I'm also a geek about the weather (lots of entries and photos here).  In addition to chasing severe weather on purpose (see here and here), I've seen lots of crazy stuff working about 15 years of various shows outdoors (mostly Met Opera, NY Philharmonic, and Tribeca Film Festival Drive In): movie screens ripped, small tents blown down, water logged sound consoles, dust devils knocking down chairs, incredible rainbows, close lightning strikes--you name it.  And last year, I posted this entry about the crazy storm at Delfest.  But I've never seen anything like this:

Updated July 28th, 2010: I guess the lawsuits have started--the original video I embedded has now been "taken down by the user".

My friend Tom Bussey's company Production Glue oversaw the technical elements of the event, the launch of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo:


Tom has a heartfelt and harrowing account of the incident (starting with some perspective on the corporate event industry last year).  Below is a short excerpt, but you should go and read the whole thing here--it's a classic example of good risk management. The decisions made by the team in the heat of the moment are the reason you didn't hear about this as a huge tragedy on the news.

... the press conference went off and the guests were ushered out for the reveal on the taxiway - no doubt it was windy and it was cold - we had recorded gusts of 40 mph and sustained winds of 28 mph, which with wind chill brought the temperature down to the low 20’s. Anyone who's been in that can tell you that it feels a lot worse, but the important thing was that we never allowed our guests or crew to be in danger. Post-reveal, the party began and the winds actually abated a bit - the rain stopped, the sky cleared up, and it looked amazing. The drinks were flowing and it all seemed good, but the forecast was not good. We were monitoring NOAA closely and a high wind advisory had been issued for the area - recorded winds at Edwards Air Force base 10 miles away had reported winds over 70 mph. At the same time we got a call from the Mojave tower which was just 5,000 feet from us up the runway, and they said they were recording wind gusts in excess of 60 mph. It was almost like we were in the eye of a hurricane as it was the calmest period we had seen in two days. A unanimous decision was reached quickly with Emergency Services, the Producer, and the Client - let's get the guests out of here now. We started an evacuation as winds became increasingly violent. It was very hard to move people out, no one wanted to leave the relative comfort of the tent for  the biting cold of the tarmac. Fritha, our producer, led the charge and moved 15 bus loads of guests and reporters out of the event site in less than 30 min. I know that coordination and rapid response saved lives - there is no doubt in my mind about that. With all guests safe, our focus  shifted squarely  to ourselves. I still thought we would be ok, but I had no idea how bad it was about to get. The wind picked up and was easily over 70 mph sustained winds - the inflatable dome structures had failed. We made sure  they were excavated and clear of all personnel. We then began giving evacuation orders to all our crew. I felt real personal danger, I was very worried that the structures that were upwind of us might be failing and we would be in serious peril...

Read the rest here.