Recognizing weather risks at sports venues: why it’s important

September 20, 2013

In the midst of a riveting game at a packed stadium, a weather disruption is often the last thing on attendees’ minds and the last thing they want to see happen.  Delays and cancellations can be inconvenient, but protecting fans, officials, players, and coaches must take priority.

Weather hazards in the proximity of athletic events have resulted in multiple close calls this fall.  The NFL season opener in Denver on September 6 was delayed by a thunderstorm threat before kickoff.  Although the stadium officials warned fans of possible lightning, many remained in their seats nevertheless.

 

Another close-call occurred on September 13 during a half-time show of a high school football game in Orlando, FL when cloud to ground lightning struck just outside the stadium. The strike was caught on the video below:

And here’s a still shot of the strike:

lightning-close-call

Outdoor stadiums tend to be more vulnerable to weather being directly exposed to the atmosphere, but indoor sporting complexes are not immune from all weather. Although indoor sporting event weather risks may be lower and less frequent than outdoor venues, there have been notable incidents.

The roof of the Minneapolis Metrodome, home of the Minnesota Vikings, collapsed in December 2010 because of heavy snow.  No game was being played at the time of the incident, but the game scheduled the next day was moved to another team’s stadium.

In March of 2008, a tornado struck the Atlanta metropolitan area during the Southeast Conference (SEC) basketball tournament held at the Georgia Dome.  There was a tornado warning issued in the middle of one of the games and play was halted moments before the tornado hit the stadium.

See footage from inside the dome in the video below (weather disruptions begins 50 seconds in):

Any of the above examples could have turned tragic under slightly different circumstances.

* Had the lightning bolt at the Orlando football game struck the bleachers, injuries would have likely occurred.

* Had the Denver NFL game started as scheduled and the storms tracked closer to the vicinity of the stadium, attendees would have been focusing their attention on the game instead of taking precautions during the threatening weather.

* Had a game been occurring during the Metrodome roof collapse, a terrible tragedy would likely have resulted.

* Had the Atlanta tornado been somewhat stronger, more serious structural damage might have occurred at the Georgia Dome.

An unfortunate incident did occur in May 2009 when a ‘tent-like structure’ at a Dallas Cowboys training facility collapsed from strong winds severely injuring a team scout and special teams coach.  A National Weather Service meteorologist classified the weather event as a microburst according to ESPN. The injuries might have been avoided if the prior warnings about the vulnerability of the structure been heeded noted a story at NFL.com.

In a recent example of taking precautionary actions to protect people from a lightning threat, at a Michigan State football game on September 7, revered basketball coach Tom Izzo took to the stadium’s public address system and encouraged the student section to evacuate. He promised them they would all be given a guaranteed seat when play resumed and that he would join them in the stands.

“Now you might not be as happy with me in a minute, but you got to understand something that’s really important to me, and that’s all of you,” Izzo said.

Here’s a video of Izzo’s speech:

Many students initially booed Izzo, but his actions to protect them were courageous.  Izzo’s words provide a template for people involved in sports to encourage weather safety. Earth Sky’s Matt Daniels agrees.

“I think what Izzo did was fantastic, and I hope these videos go viral and teach lessons to every student body at all campuses across the United States,” Daniels wrote. “Why? Because being aware of the weather is important for your safety.”

No engineered structure is completely protected from weather, but one must recognize the risks of what types of weather are most likely to affect them during sporting events.  Outdoor stadiums seem to be more vulnerable to the atmospheric elements from all types of precipitation, lightning, wind, and also extreme air temperatures.  When there is a threat of extreme weather during any sporting event, be prepared and have a plan to take necessary actions to protect yourself and others.

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The National Weather Service provides useful resources for what to do to protect people participating in outdoor events. Lightning Safety and Outdoor Sports Activities; Lightning Risk Reduction Outdoors

The author, Brendan Richardson, is a Capital Weather Gang fall intern.  Brendan recently earned his Bachelor of Science double major degree in Earth Science with a Concentration in Atmospheric Science; and Global and Environmental Change from George Mason University. 

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