Sitting in a Lightning Storm with 60,000 of My Closest Friends…….

By Dr. Marshall Shepherd

This is a great time of year for me because I love college football. Go Noles. Go Dawgs (and in that order). I can’t help but notice that it seems that more games have been delayed this year due to weather. Is it just a stormy early season or is there something different about the lightning policies?

Even with the delays, I see picture after picture on social media of players evacuating the field but fans sitting in the stadium with Cloud-to-Ground lightning strokes all around.

AP Photo/Phil Sandlin

Does the communal feeling of other fans make them feel safe (even though you are in an open stadium with a lot of metal)?

What about the Daytona 500 with 150,000 people? This number is twice the size of the population of many college towns. Yet, there was a Doppler-radar warned cell within miles of the venue earlier this year. Link

What would the safety or evacuation plan be?

Or what about the Sugarland Concert Stage Collapse at the Indiana State Fair? Link

Weather was a key aspect of this tragedy. What have we learned?

Even the American Meteorological Society (AMS) is working towards a Policy or Information Statement on weather and outside venues. I am pleased to see this because it is needed. Lives are at stake.

Dr Kevin Kloesel Meteorologist for the University of Oklahoma

On WxGeeks this Sunday, University of Oklahoma Meteorologist Dr. Kevin Kloesel joins us to discuss the aforementioned issues. Dr. Kloesel emailed these thoughts:

5,000 universities across the country have outdoor campuses. That’s about 21 million students that are outdoors and exposed to the elements every single day.
That number doesn’t count large athletic events like football, or large gatherings like commencement where 10 to hundreds of thousands of visitors could also be on our campuses.
Very few employers in this country have 30,000–60,000 people in a confined area (outdoors) — the vulnerability and risk is HUGE!
Why does it take Tom Izzo (Michigan State basketball coach) to have to get on the field to convince students to evacuate in the face of threatening weather?
What causes normal people to disrobe in sub-zero weather at winter athletic events and risk permanent damage?

On the last question, I think I probably know the answer but it doesn’t excuse the danger. ☺

Dr. Kloesel and I will also discuss, “What does it truly mean to be weather-ready on a university campus?”

While many colleagues, including me, have provided weather support for universities, I am particularly interested in learning more about Dr Kloesel’s rather unique 24/7 role as “the” meteorologist for the University of Oklahoma (learn more here:Link). We will also use the “Hail No” segment to debunk several myths about lightning. We’ve all heard them.

Join us Sunday at Noon ET/11 CT/10 MT/9 PT on The Weather Channel.

Part II of our discussion with James Spann airs the following week. We will explore the emerging role of the TV meteorologist.

In closing, I am sure most of you reading this would not sit on your deck, porch, or patio with CG lightning less than a mile away. So why do many people relax such caution at a game, on a golf course, or during an outdoor concert?

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