Sports & Severe Weather Safety

The weather across North Central Wisconsin been relatively quiet over the past few days, so this week I'm going to turn my attention to the severe weather which caused the Dallas Cowboys practice dome to collapse on Saturday (May 2nd). As you may have seen on various newscasts the last few days, a line of thunderstorms worked across northeast Texas and through the Dallas area producing damaging winds, hail up to 1" in diameter and heavy downpours of rain. The Cowboys practice facility and stadium are located just to the northwest of downtown Dallas in Irving, TX and to give you some background information, weather conditions were expected to be volatile in east Texas on Saturday. A tornado watch was in place across this region at the time, and a severe thunderstorm warning had been issued in advance of this band of storms at 3:06pm, roughly 10 to 15 minutes before impacting Irving. As you can see in the video of the dome collapsing, the players, coaches and local media were obviously not aware of the impending weather situation.

For starters, I have always wondered about those dome practice buildings. Obviously, strong winds, large hail, or heavy snow for that matter could take down these structures in a matter of minutes. In the case of snow, you would certainly have enough lead time to possibility deflate the structure and not have anyone inside until conditions improved. As for severe weather, that is another story. Many college and professional football teams in particular have these types of places where they workout and practice. They are great for days when it is cold, rainy or just not pleasant to be out in the elements, but as we found out, can certainly have major faults when the weather becomes severe. The main questions here are do the Cowboys have a stadium or team operations group that keeps an eye on the weather and barring a tornado siren going off, would they have made the team aware of severe storms about to approach the practice site, and in essence allowed them to take cover in a safer building? I would hope that each and every professional sports team including baseball, football and soccer do, however it may vary from team to team. I do know the NFL and Major League Baseball have private forecast companies that provide weather information, along with the National Weather Service, but usually that is only made use of on the day of the game. Either way, the resulting damage was caused by a microburst (which is a downward rush of wind from the cloud toward the ground) produced by the storm, which likely had winds up to 70 mph.

Of course, adverse weather can also have an impact on game days, which not only involves the players on the field, but also the fans. There have been many instances over the years where lightning and tornadoes have forced the halting of play and evacuations of sports stadiums. I would believe that stadium personal and ushers have been trained on how to respond in these type of situations. Of course it comes down to how the fans react and how evacuation procedures are coordinated for everyone in the stadium to be safe. Just imagine you are at a Packers game on a Sunday afternoon and during the game, an announcement is made that a tornado warning has been issued for Brown County. At first, some may think the storm won't hit Lambeau, but the reality is to rather be safe than sorry. At this point in advance of a possible tornado or storms producing cloud to ground lightning, the safety measures should go into effect.

With that in mind, what should you do as a spectator? First and foremost, the best place to be is in the concourse area, or the interior of the stadium. Just like if you were caught at home or work, you want to stay away from windows (i.e. the atrium where that huge glass entrance is) and perhaps huddle into the bathroom or hallways if a tornado were approaching the stadium. This would not be the time to run out to your car or be caught in mass of people outside of the stadium. And just like school children across the state practice during tornado drills, you'll want to get low to the ground and wrap your arms over your head...aka get in the fetal position. As for lightning safety, you certainly want to be under cover and not touching or be near any metal surfaces, like railings or metal tables at the stadium. Obviously in the seating area, you are surrounded by metal, so that wouldn't be the best spot to be either. In addition to Lambeau Field, these tips would also apply if you were at Camp Randall and any other open air sports field/stadium. As for Miller Park, although the roof can be closed, it could also be subjected to damage from high winds or a possible tornado...so yes even there, a plan of action should be in place.

Needless to say it is always important to be aware of how the weather could affect a sporting event, and of course we are here locally to give you the latest on what may occur in North Central Wisconsin.

Here are some links to articles on severe weather and sports:

 

Weatherwise Magazine Article--Safeguarding the Spectator

University of Michigan-Michigan Stadium Severe Weather Precautions

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