Millions of our citizens attend innumerable outdoor athletics and entertainment events/venues annually, with the expectation that a reasonable “standard of care” will be applied to ensuring the safety of each event/venue participant, official and patron. One of the primary risks to outdoor event and venue safety is weather. From hazards such as lightning and extreme heat and cold, to dramatic phenomena like tornados, large hail, and severe winds, weather has forever been a companion to outdoor events and venues.
History reminds us that the intersection of large venues, outdoor events, people and weather can be deadly. Notable events such as a) the 1877 storm that destroyed the grandstands at the Avenue Grounds where the Cincinnati Reds were playing the Hartfords of Brooklyn; b) the fatalities and serious injuries at Yankee Stadium in a severe storm in 1929; c) the lightning fatality at the Professional Golf Association (PGA) US Open Tournament in 1991; and d) the mass injuries at an outdoor festival in Fort Worth in 1995 have given the weather enterprise repeated opportunities to develop a comprehensive information statement to guide improvements in our ability to forecast and manage outdoor venue risk against the perils of weather.
Unfortunately, recent tragedies such as the seven fatalities in weather at the Indiana State Fair in 2011, and the lightning fatality at Pocono International Raceway in 2012 illustrate our repeated inability to act in providing our nation with appropriate guidance regarding this important intersection of large outdoor venues and weather risk.
How long will we allow swift information transfer via social media to provide us with visual cues that the standard of care at venues is seemingly violated countless times each year? Videos and images of dangerous lightning strikes flashing over stadiums packed with thousands of fans while the game/event continues, wind storms/tornados destroying temporary structures creating debris that lands perilously close to or into spectators, and hailstorms creating mass injuries have become part of our daily viewing regimen - retweeted, shared, and liked countless times. We have the opportunity to recognize that a major weather safety problem exists at our venues and at outdoor events across the country. The dangerous act of patrons taking and sharing these dramatic videos and images is proof positive of that.
It is appropriate that the American Meteorological Society craft an information statement that combines synergistic expertise from behavioral and meteorological sciences, and focuses our collaborative spirit and expertise on the problem of outdoor venue safety in weather-impacted situations. It is our responsibility to create a statement that encourages the use of comprehensive weather forecasting and monitoring capabilities paired with proactive decision triggers and behavior protocols, and robust education and awareness campaigns to best protect large numbers of people expecting a “standard of care” at our nation’s venues when hazardous weather occurs.