To Play or Not to Play? Advanced Solutions for Addressing Weather-related Game Delays

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Executive summary

The climate is changing and extreme weather events
are becoming increasingly more frequent. Sports
officials need a clear view of current conditions and an
accurate understanding of how forecasted weather will
impact their event. In recent years, there has been
greater awareness of the importance in understanding
weather conditions and the necessary caution when
considering delaying games or evacuating people.

Introduction:

Sporting events are an exciting, shared experience. Thousands of fans and spectators are energized by the drama of the game and the promise of a thrilling win. However, if you are in charge of ensuring the safety of those fans and players, you may have to make some hard
decisions about delaying the game when dark or stormy clouds start rolling in. Safety must always come first when lightning, rain, high winds, or other conditions threaten play.

And if it seems like this scenario has been happening more often to you in recent years, you’re right. Sporting event delays due to weather are becoming more and more common, for two major reasons: 1) there is an increase in extreme weather events and 2) officials have a better
awareness of how weather situations can harm players and spectators, and are wisely suspending or canceling events more often.

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To Play or Not to Play? Advanced Solutions for Addressing Weather-related Game Delays

  1. 1. To Play or Not to Play? Advanced Solutions for Addressing Weather-related Game Delays Executive summary The climate is changing and extreme weather events are becoming increasingly more frequent. Sports officials need a clear view of current conditions and an accurate understanding of how forecasted weather will impact their event. In recent years, there has been greater awareness of the importance in understanding weather conditions and the necessary caution when considering delaying games or evacuating people.
  2. 2. To Play or Not to Play? Schneider Electric White Paper Revision 0 Page 2 Sporting events are an exciting, shared experience. Thousands of fans and spectators are energized by the drama of the game and the promise of a thrilling win. However, if you are in charge of ensuring the safety of those fans and players, you may have to make some hard decisions about delaying the game when dark or stormy clouds start rolling in. Safety must always come first when lightning, rain, high winds, or other conditions threaten play. And if it seems like this scenario has been happening more often to you in recent years, you’re right. Sporting event delays due to weather are becoming more and more common, for two major reasons: 1) there is an increase in extreme weather events and 2) officials have a better awareness of how weather situations can harm players and spectators, and are wisely suspending or canceling events more often. Although there is still debate and research about the degree to which climate change is influenced by natural cycles or human activity, there is one thing we know for certain: the climate is shifting, and recent shifts are having an impact on the frequency of more volatile weather patterns. Extreme events are more common than natural variability would suggest. Research has shown that extreme events — such as temperatures that are much above or below normal, severe drought, rainfall amounts in the top 10 percent of historical events, and prolonged dry periods — have shown an uptrend since 1970. These events have impacted a greater portion of the United States in recent decades, and this overall trend of increased extreme weather events will likely continue at an increased frequency in the coming years; possibly decades. Severe storms have tended to be more clustered in time recently, with favored areas showing repeat events. Severe weather, including lightning, high winds, heavy rain, or extreme heat, threatens the safety of those at the event, costs time and money for game operations, and negatively impacts the experiences of fans. In particular, lightning often puts players and the public at the biggest risk in outdoor venues. In addition, it can be difficult to predict without advanced equipment, often appearing to come “out of the blue” if officials aren’t familiar with warning signs — and its affects can be deadly. Here are some of the most common examples of sporting organizations and events affected by severe weather and how they address it: NCAA Lightning and other severe weather events have impacted the NCAA and member schools in recent years. For instance: • After a three-and-a-half hour rain and lightning delay during September 2013, Texas State defeated Wyoming. It was the longest rain delay in college football history. • The NCAA postponed two games at the 2013 Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City due to severe weather. • In 2011, Notre Dame Stadium was evacuated twice during the same game because of lightning — the first evacuations in the building’s 80-year history. • A three-hour weather delay at an Oklahoma State vs. Tulsa football game in September 2011 resulted in a kick-off around midnight. Introduction The impact on sporting events Is extreme weather increasing?
  3. 3. To Play or Not to Play? Schneider Electric White Paper Revision 0 Page 3 The NCAA has one of the most comprehensive policies regarding severe weather threats, including two and a half pages of detailed recommendations for lightning safety. In years past, hardly anything delayed a college game. But more recently, the NCAA and universities have become more aware of the dangers of severe weather, as well as the need for emergency planning and procedures. Since 2007, its policy has been that any lightning strike within six miles of an open-air site automatically triggers a 30-minute delay. NATA The most recent National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) position statement on lightning safety for athletics and recreation noted the increase in lightning casualties, from 15 percent of all lightning casualties happening at sporting events (of all levels) in 2005 to 48 percent during 2010-2011. This reinforces the need for advanced weather forecasting technologies and a greater degree of caution when considering whether to delay an outdoor sporting event. Golf is a somewhat unique sport when it comes to severe weather safety, as it is played exclusively outdoors. There are also special considerations due to the size of the playing area: spectators and players are spread out over a large area with no shelter if they are far from the clubhouse. Since lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the parent thunderstorm, play will often be delayed and spectators evacuated if a storm with the right movement and characteristics breaches a 10-mile radius. Six miles is typically the absolute limit of how close a storm can come before everyone is ordered to take shelter. Schneider Electric provided meteorological support to 43 events for the PGA TOUR during 2013, and a remarkable 29 of those events had at least one delay or suspension at some point during the tournament week. That’s 68 percent of events that were impacted by the weather and had to stop play. • During the 2013 The Memorial Tournament, for the seventh time in eight years, weather delayed play. • During the 2010 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, lightning damaged the course and suspended play. • During the 1991 U.S. Open, six spectators were hit by lightning near the 11th fairway. One suffered cardiac arrest and died later that day. Ultimately, the decision of whether to delay or cancel a game or event must be made with the best information available at the time. By equipping yourself with advanced forecasting technologies and access to an expert meteorologist, you will have a comprehensive weather monitoring system to help you better protect players and fans. Real-time information and advanced forecasting Current technologies can combine real-time data with accurate forecasting to give you a more powerful tool for storm preparedness and highly specialized predictions. Detailed, location- specific forecast services offer real-time weather conditions and storm attributes so that you know exactly what elements are headed towards your location. Advance technology for safe decisions “We're like airline pilots — hours of boredom and moments of terror. The weather is by far our biggest problem.” Mark Russell, tournament director for the PGA Tour, 2011
  4. 4. To Play or Not to Play? Schneider Electric White Paper Revision 0 Page 4 In addition, access to real-time lightning information is critical. Internet websites often don’t update frequently enough — sometimes only every 10 or 15 minutes — which can provide you with a false sense of security or danger. And using the “flash-to-bang” method is unscientific and unreliable, as lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from the parent storm. But with advanced lightning tracking technology, you can monitor lightning heading toward your event in real time. Alerts can even be provided automatically via email or text message when lightning strikes are detected in a pre-determined area, which is vital for you to make early decisions that protect spectator and player safety. Access to an experienced meteorologist As you are making your decision about whether to delay a game, you should ideally have access to an experienced meteorologist to discuss his or her overall level of confidence in the forecast. This is extremely valuable for understanding and reducing risk, especially when making difficult decisions regarding game delays and public safety. Through online consulting or phone calls, a meteorologist can be available to answer your in-depth questions and discuss the reasoning that went into the forecast you are seeing. Figure 1 With advanced lightning tracking technology, you can monitor lightning heading toward your event in real time. Figure 2 Lightning alerts warn you when lightning strikes are detected in a pre-determined area, which is vital for you to make early decisions that protect spectator and player safety.
  5. 5. To Play or Not to Play? Schneider Electric White Paper Revision 0 Page 5 The climate is changing, and with it the frequency and volatility of extreme weather events. Sports officials must have a clear view of current conditions for their area, as well as an accurate understanding of how forecasted weather events will impact their event. The good news is that in recent years there is greater awareness about the importance of understanding weather conditions and the caution needed when considering delaying games or evacuating people. Some sports organizations are taking a collaborative approach when setting procedures for severe weather. For example, the NFL, NCAA, and the meteorology community are together addressing the threat of lightning at outdoor stadiums. The golf world, in particular, has been a pioneer in preparing for severe weather. For decades, the PGA TOUR has contracted a meteorologist on-site to relay weather information and help proactively evacuate the course for lightning. Other sports have taken notice. NASCAR now has access to a meteorologist to help determine risk factors that will drive response decisions. Additionally, more Major League Baseball venues are expected to use on-site meteorologists in the coming years for these reasons. With extreme weather events occurring more frequently — a trend that is expected to continue — the responsibility of ensuring player and public safety at outdoor games will become even more challenging. Although delaying or canceling a sporting event is never a popular or happy decision, with the right tools and support, you can be confident that your decision was the right one. http://www.schneider-electric.com Document serial number (unique to each white paper) Conclusion

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