The big story at this year’s Farm Technology Days in Outagamie County was the weather.
Mother Nature seemed determined to throw one curve ball after another at organizers and volunteers who had worked on the show for the past three years.
The annual three-day outdoor farm show, which moves to a different county each year, seemed to have been hit with virtually every kind of weather except snow.
A clearly disappointed Kevin Jarek, the executive secretary of the show and Outagamie County Extension’s Crops, Soils and Horticulture agent, was still working with the ground crew on Tuesday morning at the Tent City site, clearing up what had been the show grounds last week.
“Agriculture needed the rain and it was good for farmers, but it wasn’t good for the show,” he said.
Attendance was down from what organizers had expected, due to all the weather problems.
According to Jarek, there were 8,500 visitors on the first day and 18,000 on the second day. Gate receipts showed the third and final day of the show brought 9,500 visitors.
That total of 36,000 fell short of the estimated 45,000 visitors the show’s organizers had expected, even with the 1,500-2,000 volunteers on the show grounds added in to the total.
“We got excellent comments on the show itself, but managing parking and a mass evacuation, well, of course that created bottlenecks and I’ve gotten lots of comments on that,” Jarek said.
The show started with excessive heat. Temperatures were in the high 90s and a heat index at over 100 degrees.
“With temperatures that high I’m sure many people thought they’d wait because there were two more days for the show,” Jarek said.
That first hot day ended with a windstorm that necessitated the evacuation of everyone from the show grounds.
“It was like a scene out of ‘Terminator’ where four-wheelers were driving around with their lights on and the dust was blowing all around them. It was apocalyptic,” Jarek said.
What made the little tempest even more frustrating for Outagamie County organizers was that the National Weather Service had not posted any watches or warnings for any kind of weather event. It just seemed to blow up out of nowhere.
The emergency evacuation on Tuesday due to the high winds was followed by heavy rains, but that wasn’t what delayed the opening of the show on its second day – it was lightning.
Weather monitors with the county’s emergency management service saw cloud-to-ground lightning in the area and couldn’t allow people on the grounds with all the tents and poles, which are in effect lightning rods, Jarek said.
It wasn’t the rain that delayed the opening of the show, as many had thought, rather it was the severity of the weather, and that caused confusion, he added.
Jarek fielded a lot of complaints about an emergency plan, about parking and traffic handling.
“There was a lot of disappointment,” he reported. “We had a plan. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was unpredictable and kept throwing us curve balls.”
The third day of the show began with rain that was supposed to dissipate from 7-9 a.m., but by 10 a.m. had intensified. Temperatures were predicted in the high 70s for that day, but with the rain and overcast skies it stayed much cooler and exhibitors and visitors alike were cold.
“When an announcement went out for our Farm Technology Days apparel, people rushed to buy hooded sweatshirts and jackets,” Jarek said.
“I don’t want to put all the blame on Mother Nature, but conditions like we had will have an impact on traffic and parking,” he said. “On the second day, when there was lightning in the area, there was confusion about why we delayed the opening. People were frustrated.”
“Any time you have a mass evacuation it’s going to create bottlenecks,” he added.
Still working to clear up the Tent City site, Jarek can’t keep the voice mail box cleared out on his cell phone.
“Every time I empty it, it gets filled up again.”