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Guest Column - March 2018

Event Planning

Professional Weather Advice for an Ideal Outdoor Event Experience

By Brad Nelson


Venue managers of sporting events face many complicated logistics and variables when it comes to providing attendees with the ideal event and experience. But one area that is often overlooked and left up to chance is weather. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), each year more than 100,000 thunderstorms occur in the United States, producing 25 million lightning flashes and killing an average of 31 people per year. Lightning can strike as far as 10 to 25 miles from the storm that produces it—making it very challenging to know when an outdoor event is in danger.

Monitoring the weather, understanding the threat and making the call to evacuate for the safety of attendees, staff and participants is no easy task, but it's one that venue managers must take seriously. Many planners rely on a free weather app for critical weather information. Free weather apps may be fine for predicting rain, but they fall short when it comes to severe weather conditions.

Inaccurate lightning detection can be extremely dangerous, and the results of failing to act can be catastrophic. In the past 10 years, 313 people have been killed by lightning in the United States, and 64 percent of all lightning fatalities are attributed to leisure activities, with 15 percent coming from sports alone. Delayed lightning detection can be worse than not having any at all because it creates a false sense of security. This important feature can be the difference between getting people to safety before lightning puts lives in danger.

There are many benefits to being proactive in advance of severe weather, rather than reacting to it. One way to ensure safety is to invest in expert meteorological support. A highly trained and certified meteorologist at an outdoor event can actively monitor weather and inform staff of conditions that could impact the event or suspend activities.

There are typically three levels of service to consider, depending on the size and budget of the outdoor event—meteorologists on-site during an event; meteorologists monitoring an event from an off-site location; and online weather monitoring and alerting that you perform yourself with support from a meteorologist. Having a trained meteorologist available is beneficial when you need to make critical decisions about moving an event indoors or evacuating an outdoor event.

So, what can venue managers do to be ready to protect the crowds? The good news is that there are a few critical steps to help plan for each stage of an event to ensure overall safety.

Developing a Weather Safety Plan

Venue managers should develop a weather safety plan that outlines exactly what to do in the case of severe weather. The emergency plan should be customized based on the location of the venue, time of year, the size and type of event that is being held and the time needed to evacuate. An emergency plan will also contain thresholds such as wind speeds and lightning distances that are essential to help determine, in advance, when it is time to evacuate.

Setting up a weather plan can also have an economic benefit. By planning crowd size and evacuation procedures, weather consultants can safely make the judgement call as to when the event needs to be evacuated, while keeping it going as long as possible. Additionally, meteorologists can advise when it is safe to resume the event, in the timeliest manner possible.

Monitoring the Weather

Monitoring the weather requires proper equipment to provide the most accurate information. Trained meteorologists will conduct a site survey to ensure that weather equipment is in the best place possible to monitor weather conditions effectively. Accurate lightning detection systems as well as expert knowledge on weather patterns in certain regions and seasons can be helpful and ease the stress on event managers.

Meteorologists will also monitor the weather forecast in advance, so they can have a better expectation of weather outcomes for the event. With 24/7 monitoring and overall expert knowledge of weather patterns and forecasting, consultants can provide an idea of what the weather will look like and what to plan for leading up to, and on the day of, an outdoor event.

Planning for Evacuations

The amount of time needed to evacuate the site is a key factor to the pre-planning process because there is no safe place to take shelter outdoors during severe weather. The only safe actions are to get people into nearby fully enclosed buildings or vehicles. Meteorologists can assist in the risk management process by helping planners predetermine the closest safe structures or evacuation vehicle locations, as well as how much time is needed to evacuate everyone to those spots.

The expectation of a flawlessly executed outdoor event can put a lot of pressure on venue managers. The potential of endangering attendees, employees and participants is too risky to ignore. Having a professional meteorologist take the responsibility of producing weather forecasts and calmly providing weather information can ultimately lighten the burden and help tremendously in case of an evacuation due to severe weather conditions.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Nelson is the Sports & Rec on-site meteorologist and Safety Markets team lead for DTN Weather. For more information, visit www.dtn.com.

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