Ever wonder how the Washington Nationals get weather information to make decisions about rain delays and postponements? Enter Telvent - a consulting firm the Nats contract with for meteorological services.
Capital Weather Gang caught up with Scott Dumblauskas, senior meteorologist for Telvent, who has done forecasting for sports and recreation clients for 5 years.
Capital Weather Gang (CWG): What aspects of the weather are you most focused on when forecasting for baseball teams, like the Washington Nationals?
Scott Dumblauskas (SD): A close focus is paid to timing out the start and end of precipitation. That seems to be one of the more critical aspects of weather as it pertains to baseball.
When nearing the start of a game, close attention is given to entry time for any rain shower activity so that, for example, warm-ups can take place and batting practices are done fairly to both teams.
During a game, accurate timing of the rain can assist a ground crew in getting the tarp on out ahead of the rain to mitigate impacts to the infield, or assisting in the decision process to call/postpone a game. Duration, intensity and total amount of precipitation also gets a close focus, but timing of starts and stops seems to be the foremost focus. Any sort of lightning or severe weather impact also gets a close eye.
CWG: How much sway do Telvent forecasters have in decisions to delay/postpone a game?
SD: Telvent forecasters have actually little say in the final matter to delay/postpone a game. That decision solely comes down to the officiating crew. As meteorologists, we are there to provide the most accurate and complete picture of the weather through the course of the game so that decisions made are done so with all weather information and scenarios presented.
CWG: How is forecasting for a point locale like Nationals Park different than forecasting for a metro area?
SD: Having a singular point to forecast for actually allows for greater detail when rain or storms are in the area. Since the stadium is one very small area, there is the potential to fully break down impacts by five or ten minute intervals. For a larger metro area, timing is generally done broadly to accommodate the breadth of a given metro area as well as differing definitions of the same metro area.
Similarly, having to deal with a point forecast grants more resolution to our forecast to the Nationals. There may be a line of rain and storms advancing through D.C., but the most intense area may skirt just to the north of the Park proper. We can relay that information to the grounds crew and officials, so even though a few miles north they pick up an inch of rain, the Park itself gets far less.
CWG: How do National officials communicate with you?
SD: Currently, the Nationals consult with Telvent’s meteorology team via the online consulting forum found within their MxVision WeatherSentry Online software. This allows the Nationals’ staff to post a question online and receive an answer to their inquiry within 5-10 minutes. This online consulting is very unique to the industry. The main benefit to online consulting, rather than phone consulting, is that it allows for one person in their staff to post a weather inquiry, but all their staff can see the answer. This can allow for quicker coordination on their end, as well as cutting down on mis-communications.
CWG: There have been times in the past where the Nats (and probably many teams for that matter) have been criticized for prematurely postponing a game when the weather ends up not too bad, and likewise for waiting too long to call a game. How do you go about avoiding those two scenarios when providing forecast information to the team?
SD: Our team does its best to mitigate those scenarios by providing not only what we think will happen, but also a worst-case (but still realistic) scenario. A good example might be widely scattered afternoon thunderstorms. There may be a very good chance that those thunderstorms will avoid the Park all afternoon, but if one were to hit it could bring a 30-45 minute downpour. This gives an idea to the officiating crew to what they might come up against, weather-wise, if the forecast goes awry from the current thinking.
CWG:Rain, lightning, storms are obviously the big ones, but what aspects of the weather are you looking at that might be less obvious to fans, but important to the game and/or stadium?
SD: Frost is actually a major concern to a lot of grounds crews, especially when dealing with more exotic types of infield grass. If the grass goes unprotected and a frost occurs, it may delay the morning prep for an afternoon game or potentially cause costly damage to the playing field. Dust storms for some of the desert stadium locations are also something that can be very impactful to fans and players alike. Another high-impact weather aspect, at least for the grounds crew, are winds. High winds can be quite detrimental to field maintenance when doing seeding or watering in that there may be some incomplete coverage (seeding) or soggy spots (watering).
CWG: What are a couple of the more memorable forecasting experiences you’ve had, whether for the Nats or any other baseball team (or other sport for that matter)?
SD: I think the most memorable forecasting experience in my tenure was dealing with Hurricane Ike in 2008 as it took aim at the Houston area. A few days from Ike’s landfall I received a call from a major league team’s head groundskeeper asking me if it would be all right to give out our telephone number to Major League Baseball Commissioner, Bud Selig. A few hours later in that day, Mr. Selig called in to discuss Ike’s potential impact upon Houston. This sparked up a few days worth of talk between Mr. Selig and the meteorologists here about Ike’s impacts and whether or not to move the game out of the path of the storm or try to play it down in Houston just a day after Ike’s landfall. It left a lasting memory in not only consulting the weather with Mr. Selig, but also demonstrating just how critical weather is in the decision making process of the MLB.
Scott Dumblauskas works out of Telvent’s Burnsville, Minnesota office. Telvent’s weather information is relied on by thousands of businesses in the energy, aviation, transportation, and sports and recreation industries, including 50% of the major league baseball teams here in the U.S.