ELKHART — Residents flocked to Central Park to celebrate Fourth of July the night before the official holiday as the city hosted an outdoor concert followed by a fireworks show just after a fierce thunderstorm pounded through the area.
Food vendors rolled back the tarps and families spread blankets on the still-wet grass to enjoy a performance by The Incredible Johnsons.
"It was coming down pretty hard for a while and it was barely moving," National Weather Service meteorologist Geoffrey Heidelberger said of the storm.
Rainfall totals varied from three-quarters of an inch to an inch or more in some areas, he said.
With visibility hampered, most cars and trucks on the U.S. 20 bypass turned on their emergency flashers and parked on the shoulder until the storm passed.
But the storm did eventually move through the area in time to let the early Independence Day celebration go on. Skies were also mostly clear on Thursday, allowing for an untold number of cookouts and parties to go on as planned, although the weather service was calling for a chance of afternoon storms.
Forecasters said the next couple of days would be the same, with hot and humid weather punctuated by a chance of rain. Slightly cooler weather and sunny skies were expected starting Sunday.
Ahead of the celebration Wednesday, city officials recapped events so far, saying an estimated 32,000 participants and spectators have been drawn to downtown in the first half of the summer. Those events have included the Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tournament, the Family Fish Fest, the 40th annual Rhapsody Arts and Music Festival, the Summer Chill Concert Series and the three-day Elkhart Jazz Festival.
Mayor Tim Neese, in a statement from his office, said many people help to make these events a success, including many volunteers and the Elkhart Buildings and Grounds Department, which he said plays an integral role in all set up and tear down of each event.
"In addition to adding to the overall the vibrancy of downtown Elkhart, these events also benefit the local economy by supporting the city’s restaurants, hotels and gas stations," Neese said in the release. "Additionally, these events could not occur without the generous support of local sponsors and volunteers. For the Jazz Festival alone, over 100 volunteers donated more than 1,800 hours of service, not including the hours of yearlong preparation."
Upcoming events rounding out the summer:
n July 12-13, Fire Combat Challenge, High Street
n July 13, Bike Night, Main Street
n July 19, Summer Chill Concert Series, with musical guest Hideous Business, at NIBCO Water and Ice Park
n July 19-20, Gateway Mile Auto Fest, Main Street.
n Aug. 3, EnviroFest, Civic Plaza
n Aug. 6, Night Out Against Crime, Civic Plaza
n Aug. 9-10, Elkhart Riverwalk Grand Prix, downtown Elkhart
n Aug. 16, Summer Chill Concert Series with musical guest Paul Erdman, NIBCO Water and Ice Park
n Sept. 2, Labor Day Parade, Main Street
n Sept. 7-8, Comic Con, Center Six One Five
n Sept. 20, Summer Chill Concert Series with musical guest Ginger and Her Baked Goods, NIBCO Water and Ice Park