All Eyes On The Tropics

August 30, 2011

With Hurricane Irene causing billions of dollars of damage up and down the United States East Coast, killing at least 40 people and destroying 1,115 homes in North Carolina alone, all eyes continue to be on the tropics as Katia churns over the Atlantic and as a new potential tropical cyclone could form in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tropical Storm Katia continues to strengthen at a fairly rapid rate. As of the 5:00 PM National Hurricane Center advisory, Katia had winds of 60 mph and was moving to the West Northwest at 20 mph. Katia continues to look more organized and will likely gain hurricane status by Wednesday morning. Satellite imagery continues to show a much more organized Katia.

Environmental conditions ahead of Katia remain extremely favorable for strengthening. Nearly all of our forecast guidance develops Katia into a major hurricane with some of the numerical forecast guidance developing Katia into a Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane.

While Katia will likely continue to strengthen, the most uncertainty regarding Katia is where she will track. Our forecast guidance generally show Katia tracking West Northwest through the short term. At this point, I believe there is at least a 60% chance Katia will likely be tracking far enough North that she will likely be impacted by a trough that will move tracking through the Ohio Valley. If this happens, Katia will recurve to the North and Northeast and will likely have little impact on the United States. There is still significant uncertainty in the ultimate track of Katia and if she is not impacted by the trough, then there is an increased chance that she will continue to move more Westerly and could post some type of threat to the East Coast. If Katia can make it to 70W, then she will be close enough to the East Coast that significant media coverage and frenzy will likely occur, especially since Katia will likely be a major Category 3 or stronger hurricane.

Another area we are watching quite closely is an unorganized area of convection in the Northwestern Caribbean.

Most of our forecast guidance is in agreement in developing this area of unorganized convection into a tropical cyclone at some point during the upcoming weekend. With weak steering currents, it will be difficult to pinpoint where this eventual tropical cyclone will track. Most of our forecast guidance indicates some type of eventual threat to the Gulf Coast. This system will have to be watched extremely closely as sea surface temperatures in the Gulf are running well above normal.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

Brandon Redmond
http://www.SWATChasers.com

 


Hurricane Irene Storm Chase

August 28, 2011

SWAT began monitoring Hurricane Irene over a week before she impacted portions of the Southeastern and Eastern United States. It became apparent that Irene would impact portions of the United States and could be a fairly strong hurricane and because of that, SWAT began planning for our first ever hurricane chase!

By Wednesday, Hurricane Irene was a strong category 3 hurricane located over the Bahamas. Irene continued to move Northwest towards the Southeastern United States Coast. We began looking for a target area along the Eastern North Carolina coast.

After coordinating with friends of ours who are part of the Asheville Storm Chasers, it was decided we would chase/ride out Irene from Beaufort, North Carolina. One of the Asheville Storm Chasers, Zachary Hargrove, had connections and we were able to stay at a vacation rental right on the coast of a channel of the Atlantic Ocean!

As Irene began to speed up, it was decided that we could not wait until Friday morning to leave for North Carolina and that we would have to leave sooner so that we could get prepared and set-up before Irene began impacting the coast. The SWAT crew, consisting of Brandon, Brad and one of our colleagues from the Amateur Radio Community Frank, left Muncie, Indiana at about 12:30 AM on Friday Morning.

We traveled South throughout the day on Friday, traveling through Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. By early afternoon (around 1:00 PM), we began arriving in the hurricane zones where evacuations were taking place in Eastern North Carolina. Just east of New Bern, NC we began to experience an increase in traffic going West away from the coast and saw several buildings and houses with protective plywood over windows.

By 2:30 PM, we arrived in the Morehead City and Beaufort, NC areas just in time to be greeted by Hurricane Irene with extremely heavy rain. Before hunkering down in Beaufort for the duration of the Hurricane, we picked up some pizza for everyone as a comical gesture for our “last meal.” Unfortunately, as you will find out later in this blog entry, we were without power in Beaufort from Friday Evening until we left on Sunday, so the pizza was indeed our last “hot” meal until Sunday afternoon.

In Beaufort we set up shop at the house on the coast and visited with the Asheville crew while eating the pizza and talking about the latest information on the hurricane. The house was extremely sturdy and was located on a small hill with a higher elevation even though we were right on the water. After setting up all of our computers, cameras and weather instruments, we took a stroll into downtown Beaufort where we esstentially found a ghost town. Nearly every business had been covered in protective plywood and sandbags and we saw very few people while venturing through the downtown area.

After we got back from our stroll through downtown, Hurricane Irene quickly showed her ugly face with heavy rain and very strong winds. By late Friday Evening, we began experiencing random short power outages as the winds continued to increase.

By 8:15 PM, the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center had issued a Tornado Watch for all of Eastern North Carolina including the Beaufort, NC area as a line of embedded supercells was moving West towards the coast. Several tornadoes were reported just North of Beaufort and at least two of the tornadoes produced significant damage.

Hurricane Irene continued to get closer to the North Carolina coast and winds continued to increase. Heavy rain was falling and flooding was beginning to impact much of the Beaufort area. We strolled out during the storm to check on conditions across the area and severe flooding was occurring with several feet of water accumulating on several streets. Storm surge was also beginning to impact the coast with the yard of the house we were staying in being submerged in water as the surge swept in.

Winds by midnight were estimated to be gusting close to hurricane force (74 mph) with winds continuing to increase as the remnants of Hurricane Irene’s eyewall approached the coast. Just before midnight the power went out at the Beaufort house and power never returned for the duration of our trip.

With little to no sleep, both groups of chasers (SWAT & Asheville Storm Chasers) were dedicated to staying awake as Irene began picking up speed. By midnight it was evident that Irene would make landfall much sooner than anticipated, possibly as early as 6 AM.

As the outerbands associated with Hurricane Irene began to approach the Beaufort coast at 4:00 AM, both crews departed the Beaufort house to feel the full fury of the Hurricane. Wind blown rain made walking and seeing extremely difficult as winds were gusting to well over hurricane force. Both teams documented the storm with video and pictures as the winds pounded the shore. Damage was already becoming evident across the area with powerlines swaying back and forth in the wind, trees down across the area and complete darkness for as long as the eye could see thanks to widespread power outages.

After venturing back to the Beaufort house, it was decided that we would ride out the remainder of the eyewall/eye indoors due to the increasing dangers outside due to falling powerlines, trees, etc.

By 5:30 AM, fatigue continued to wear on both teams, we all decided that a couple of hours of sleep was necessary. Around 10:00 AM, I was awoken to extremely strong winds still battering against the side of the house. After walking upstairs and checking in with the Asheville Storm Chasers, I was informed that the Southern side of Irene’s eyewall was thrashing us with extremely strong winds yet again. Just prior to arriving upstairs, the Davis Mesonet recorded a 76 mph wind gust which was likely on the low side since the weather station was being sheltered in between two buildings. With no traditional forms of communication available, we utilized our amateur radio equipment to report the wind gust and our report to the National Weather Service!

The hurricane continued to produce tropical storm and hurricane force winds all day on Saturday. A reporting station in Beaufort recorded at least tropical storm force winds or higher for 23 consecutive hours!

As the rain began to lighten up Saturday Afternoon, both teams ventured out to survey the damage across the Beaufort area. On foot we discovered that the flooding situation was improving with water levels decreasing. We found lots of tree damage and noted a significant amount of debris from shrubbery and roofs lying all across the area. We also found some minor structural damage in the downtown area. As stated above, winds continued to be extremely gusty with sporadic heavy rain.

After walking across the area, we took a trip in the SWERV and found several light poles blown over in a shopping plaza, some structural damage on US 70 and more trees down across the city. Following our damage survey, we stopped at the Beaufort fire department where we were told that power outages could last for days as all three substations that powered Beaufort were completely offline.


By Saturday Night, Irene was moving away from Beaufort but the damage had already been done. We would be spending the night in the Beaufort house with limited power (only a generator running necessary equipment). After sleeping for 8 hours Saturday Night, both teams woke up Sunday Morning and began cleaning up after ourselves and packing for the trip home. We departed Beaufort and crossed into Morehead City where more extensive damage was found. Multiple large trees, powerpoles and billboards were down with more extensive structural and roof damage found.

Finally after driving for approximately an hour, we got far enough West in North Carolina to find areas with power and ate a very delicious and hot lunch at a Ruby Tuesday. Both teams departed Ruby Tuesday for home (SWAT to Indiana and the Asheville Storm Chasers to Asheville, NC).

Chasing Hurricane Irene was an exciting and once in a lifetime experience. I have no regrets, but I can tell you that I will be very thankful when I arrive home and can take a hot shower & shave for the first time in 4 days! Yes, very gross!

For more pictures we took during Hurricane Irene, please visit http://www.Facebook.com/SWATChasers. We also have several videos of Irene online at http://www.Youtube.com/SWATChasers.

On a separate note, we are monitoring a strong Tropical Wave just South of the Cape Verde Islands in the Eastern Atlantic. Some of our forecast models are developing this tropical wave into a tropical storm and eventually into a hurricane. We’ll be watching this tropical wave very closely to see if it does indeed develop and if it does develop, where it might go! Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading,

Brandon Redmond
SWATChasers.com
SWATTours.com – Book your 2012 Storm Chase Tour today!


Dangerous Hurricane Irene to impact much of the East Coast

August 26, 2011

As of 8:00 AM, Hurricane Irene was a strong Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds. Hurricane Irene is likely undergoing what we call an eyewall replacement cycle (ERC) where the old eyewall dissipates while a new eyewall develops and becomes the dominate center of circulation. This is likely the cause for Irene’s weakening, however strengthening will likely resume later today and Irene will likely regain major hurricane status (category 3).

Outer rain bands from Hurricane Irene are already impacting portions of the Eastern and Southeastern South Carolina Coast. Folly Beach, SC has already reported 2,600 people without power and I’m sure that is just the beginning in terms of power outages! Increased wave heights can also be expected this afternoon along the Florida, Georgia and Carolina Coast as Irene continues to move North at 14 mph.

As Irene draws closer to the North Carolina coast, the atmosphere associated with Irene will become more favorable for tornadoes, which is fairly common in hurricane and tropical type storms. For that reason, the Storm Prediction Center has outlined Eastern North Carolina in a slight risk (5%) for tornadoes this afternoon and this evening.

Hurricane warnings are in effect for much of the South Carolina and North Carolina Coast. Hurricane Irene is a very large hurricane with a very large wind field and strong tropical storm force and hurricane winds will reach the coast long before Irene makes landfall. Rapidly deteriorating conditions are expected along the Carolina Coast by late this evening.

My forecast track for Irene is very similar to the National Hurricane Center’s official forecast track. Irene will likely make landfall between Morehead City, NC and Hatteras, NC sometime Saturday Afternoon. Irene will then move back into open waters and make a second landfall on Sunday near Atlantic City, NJ. Here is the official National Hurricane Center forecast track and the latest hurricane watches & warnings.

Besides the hurricane force winds and potential tornadoes, the other extremely dangerous threat with Irene will be the potential for massive amounts of rainfall and dangerous and deadly flooding due to the large amounts of rainfall and storm surge. Irene has a significant moisture influx feed with her and she will bring heavy amounts of rain to the entire East Coast. 8-16 inches of rain will be possible from North Carolina all the way to New York.

Our thoughts are with all of those that will be impacted by Hurricane Irene. Hurricane Irene has the potential to be one of the most destructive hurricanes and for that matter disasters to impact the United States in decades. Residents in the path of Irene from North Carolina to Long Island, New York should be taking their hurricane precautions/preparations and heeding any warnings given by public safety/emergency management officials.

SWATChasers is just now entering Western North Carolina and we are enroute to Morehead City, NC to get set-up and prepared for Hurricane Irene. We will continue to bring you live updates on our facebook page (www.Facebook.com/SWATChasers), on twitter (www.Twitter.com/SWATChasers) and you can watch our live streaming video later today at http://www.SWATChasers.com!

SWAT will also have live video coverage/interviews on the following stations:

WLIO – Lima, Ohio
Local 12 – Cincinnati, Ohio
ABC 22 – Dayton, Ohio
NBC WDTN 2 – Dayton, Ohio
Fox 45 – Dayton, Ohio
WCIA 3 – Eastern, Illinois (Champaign – Urbana)
Fox 59 – The Indianapolis News Leader


Hurricane Irene – Legitimate East Coast Threat

August 22, 2011

Irene strengthened into a hurricane overnight despite her interaction with land. Nearly all of Puerto Rico is without power as Irene battered the island with 80 mph wind gusts.

Here is a radar loop of Irene as she passed over Puerto Rico early this morning:

Our forecast guidance continues to track Irene just North of the Island of Hispanolia. If this were to occur, land interaction would be very minimal and Irene would likely continue to strengthen. With an extremely favorable upper air environment, Irene should have no problem reaching major hurricane status within the next 48-72 hours.

The track of Irene is the big question. With a weakeness in the subtropical ridge, Irene will likely take a turn towards the North or Northwest. The only caveat in this theory is the strength of the cyclone as stronger hurricanes will often exhibit or try to exhibit a leftward motion.

While some uncertainty still exists, most of our forecast models agree that a Carolina Coastline landfall is in the works.

Irene will likely have major impacts on nearly all of the Eastern Seaboard. The cyclone will likely be large in nature with tropical storm force and hurricane winds extending well out from the Central. Tropical Storm and Hurricane force winds are likely to impact much of the Eastern Seaboard with the Western part of Irene likely coming close to the Eastern Florida Coast.

Hurricane watches and warnings are in effect for much of Hispanolia, Cuba and the Bahamas.

In addition to strong winds, storm surge and extremely heavy flooding rains will be a significant threat across much of the Southeast and Eastern United States Coast. With a slow moving cyclone and a deep moisture connection/influx into the hurricane, flooding rains will be an extremely dangerous threat up and down the Southeastern and Eastern Coast. Our forecast models are already keying in on this threat with the GFS indicating widespread flooding rains from Florida to Maine.

Residents from Florida to Maine should be on high alert and be monitoring the progress of Irene. Hurricane Irene will be a large hurricane with her effects being felt well away from the center of circulation/eye wall. Irene will be a multi-facet hurricane bringing not only damaging winds, but torrential flooding rains, storm surge, strong rip currents and tornadoes.

For SWAT’s latest information on Hurricane Irene, you can follow us at:

www.Facebook.com/SWATChasers
www.Twitter.com/SWATChasers

Please take time to visit our websites at www.SWATChasers.com and www.SWATTours.com


Twice in less than a week!

August 18, 2011

Less than a week after the devastating stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair due to strong winds, yet another outdoor event stage collapsed today and this time it was in Belgium. At least three people attending the concert were killed and several others were injured. The stage collapsed at the open air Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium during a performance by the Chicago band.

Witnesses reported that a heavy storm hit just as the band began playing. A spokesman for the Chicago band stated they “assumed it was a storm passing through when the stage started shaking.” With this particular stage collapse, damaging winds were reported across the festival grounds with several other tents collapsing and injuries reported across the festival grounds. The Chicago Tribune reported that “Video from the site showed stage equipment dangling in high winds as rain-soaked concertgoers at the music festival ran for cover. Trees and branches all around the area were downed, evidence of the sudden ferocity of the winds. Images of the disaster showed fallen lighting scaffolds. Dutch NOS television reporter Rick Hoogkamp, who was attending the concert Thursday, said several tents collapsed. An AP reporter saw concession stands blown down and a large food tent spread across the ground.”

With two stage collapses in less than week and two others reported earlier this year, one in Oklahoma and one in Ottawa, the trends seem quite clear.

1. Outdoor event planners are not properly planning for inclement and when severe weather does strike, a call to action and evacuation/sheltering process is not initiated in a timely manner.

2. Outdoor temporary stages are not built structurally sound and a lack or regulation/building codes for outdoor temporary stages promotes problems.

For my complete blog entry on the events that transpired this past weekend at the Indiana State Fair, please visit https://swatchasers.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/anything-but-a-fluke/

Thanks for reading and let’s hope for less tragic weather stories during the upcoming weeks!

Brandon Redmond
SWATChasers.com
SWATTours.com


Weather Wise: What is a gustnado?

August 17, 2011

Since there has been some speculation that a gustnado may have developed along the gust front as it struck the Indiana State Fair causing the stage collapse and mass casualty incident, I figured I would take time to post a weather wise blog explaining what gustnadoes are!

While there are some theories that a gustnado may have struck the Sugarland stage at the Indiana State Fair causing the stage collapse, that is neither here nor there as far as this blog entry is concerned. I will tell you however that there were several documented gustnadoes across Central and Western Indiana on Saturday Evening, August 13th, 2011.

A gustnado is a specific type of a short-lived, low-level rotating cloud that can form in a severe thunderstorm. Gustnadoes form due to non-tornadic cyclonic features in the downdraft from the gust front of a strong thunderstorm, especially one which has become outflow dominated. While they often look similar, gustnadoes have very little in common to their big brother, the tornado. Gustnadoes are outflow dominated and often form along gust fronts, while tornadoes form from a rotating supercell and mesocyclone.

One of the key differences and easiest ways to determine a gustnado verses a tornado is that gustnadoes are often not attached to any cloud structure. Tornadoes on the other hand extend down from a rotating wall cloud, a cloud feature that often develops in a supercell thunderstorm. Gustnadoes, while not true tornadoes, can become quite wide and can even be long lived. Gustnadoes should be considered dangerous as they often produce winds in excess of 60 to 70 mph. Gustnadoes have and can do damage.

The picture above is a rotating supercell and associated wall cloud. Wall clouds often have that circular and lowered look and typically rotate, some times quite violently. Most tornadoes develop from wall clouds and supercell type thunderstorms.

The picture above was taken by SWAT Chasers outside of O’Neill, Nebraska on May 30th. The storms that day quickly became outflow dominant and the storms produced numerous gustnadoes all across Central Nebraska. Some of the gustnadoes became quite wide including one we chased which was over 1/2 mile wide. The picture above shows that the rotating column of air, dirt and debris was clearly a gustnado as it was not attached to any wall cloud or lowered cloud base. This particular gustnado occurred on a gust front that surged out ahead of a supercell. What was rare about this particular incident was that to the East of our location, a large gustnado was swirling on the ground. To our West under the actual mesocylone, a tornado briefly touched down under the wall cloud in an open field.

Gustnadoes are often confused and interpreted to be tornadoes by the public and even law enforcement and public safety officials. As stated above, the simplest way to tell a gustnado from a tornado is to check and see if there is a connection to a rotating cloud base. If there is, it is a tornado. If there is not, it is likely a gustnado. If you see a gustnado approaching, you should seek shelter as they can produce strong winds and cause damage.

I hope this blog gave you a little bit of a better understanding of gustnadoes so that when us weather people use the term in the future, you will have a better idea what we are talking about!

Thanks for reading!

Brandon Redmond
SWATChasers.com

P.S. Don’t forget that you can book your storm chase tour with SWATChasers for the 2012 storm chase season! We are offering week long tours that will offer guests a chance to see the incredible Great Plains, Severe Thunderstorms and hopefully tornadoes! You can check out our tour schedule and find more information at SWATTours.com


Anything but a “fluke”

August 15, 2011

5 people died and 45 were injured on Saturday Evening, August 13th, 2011 at the Indiana state fairgrounds as damaging outflow winds struck the fairgrounds causing a stage set-up for the Sugarland concert to collapse. Governor Daniels called the incident a “fluke” in a statement he made following the disaster and also stated,  “I’m not clear how anyone could have foreseen a sudden, highly localized blast of wind.”

Here is the official local storm report issued by the NWS Indianapolis:

This blog entry will look into the events that occurred across Indiana and at the State Fairgrounds on Saturday, August 13th, 2011 as a line of severe storms swept across the state.

There have been numerous comments including the ones from Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels describing this as a “fluke” event or an event with no warning. That is far from the case. The National Weather Service issued hazardous weather outlooks and severe weather outlooks as early as Friday morning indicating the potential for severe storms with damaging winds across Central Indiana on Saturday. The private sector, including myself, began noticing the potential very early on in the week. In fact we at SWAT began monitoring for a potential chase day on Saturday, August 13th as early as Sunday, August 7th. The pattern was prime for potential severe weather and our forecast models along with pattern recognition should have allowed any meteorologist to see the potential several days prior to Saturday. The image below shows the posts I made in our SWAT group on Facebook (notice the dates).

By Saturday morning, the Storm Prediction Center had placed nearly all of Indiana including Indianapolis under a slight risk for severe weather. The severe weather outlook even indicated a higher probabilities of damaging winds from Indianapolis and points North and West.

Early in the morning a surface low and an associated boundary were located across portions of Northern Illinois. This low was forecast to move into portions of North Central Indiana by late Saturday Afternoon. Temperatures climbed into the middle to upper 80’s with low leve moisture increasing and pooling ahead of the boundary. Thunderstorms began to develop by late afternoon across Eastern Illinois and the storms quickly developed into a squall line with CAPE values (convective available potential energy) climbing to well over 2,000 J/K. A 40 knot jet undercutting the trough helped promote storm organization and enhanced the potential for damaging winds.

At 5:57 PM, the Storm Prediction Center issued a Severe Thunderstorm Watch for all of Central Indiana including the Indianapolis metropolitan area and the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The Severe Thunderstorm Watch called for damaging winds up to 70 mph, 1″ hail and dangerous lightning. The watch was issued over 2 hours prior to the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Here is a radar snapshot of the developing squall line at 7:45 PM (approximately 1 hour prior to the line hitting the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

By 7:45 PM, the radar image above shows the developing squall line and also a developing gust front. The image on the left hand side of the radar snapshot above shows a thin line of green echoes about 15 miles out ahead of the main squall line. This is called a gust front. A gust front is the leading edge of gusty, cooler surface winds from thunderstorm downdrafts; the strong winds along the gusty front are often associated with a shelf or roll cloud. The image on the right hand side of the radar snapshot above shows velocity data or wind speeds. As the squall line continued to organize, enhanced winds were noted within portions of the squall line (noted with the brighter green velocities).

The squall line continued to intensify and the gust front continued to surge several miles out ahead of the squall line. At 8:39 PM as the squall line began to enter far Western Marion County, the National Weather Service issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Marion County calling for damaging winds up to 60 mph.

The warning was issued 10 minutes prior to the Indiana State Grandstands incident which was adequate notice for public safety officials and event planners at the fairgrounds to get the concert attendees to shelter. In my opinion, the two things the National Weather Service did not accurately portray in the Severe Thunderstorm Warning were the fact that the damaging winds were well ahead of any precipitation (the gust front) and the storm arrival times listed in the warning were several minutes off. It appeared that the National Weather Service was timing the squall line itself rather than the gust front as the warning has the storms hitting Zionsville at 8:55 PM when in fact the gust front went through Zionsville at approximately 8:45 PM.

Shortly after the Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued, hurricane force winds of 77 mph were reported (measured) in Plainfield. An estimated 70 mph wind gust was also reported in Speedway.

The radar image above from 8:45 PM shows the gust front surging well ahead of the squall line. The stripe of green and blue reflectivity outlined by the black circle shows the gust front just West of the fairgrounds extending from Western Madison County through Northwestern Marion County and farther Southwest towards Speedway & Plainfield where the 70+ mph wind gusts were reported.

At 8:49 PM, the gust front struck the Indiana State Fairgrounds, 10 minutes after the Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued. The gust front was accompanied by a significant amount of blowing dust. Gust fronts sometimes produce gustnadoes (gustnadoes form due to non-tornadic cyclonic features in the downdraft from the gust (outflow) front of a strong thunderstorm) and some of the high definition video from the fairgrounds shows what could have been a developing gustnado. Either way, winds at the fairgrounds and at the Sugarland Concert were likely close to 70 mph. The video screen capture below shows the blowing dust and reduced visibility as strong winds associated with the gust front struck the State Fairgrounds.

The radar image below was captured at 20:49 just as the gust front passed through the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The radar image shows where the gust front was located. You can see the precipitation associated with the actual squall line was still well West of the State Fairgrounds in Western Marion County.

Here is an even closer view of the radar which shows the well defined gust front moving towards and through the State Fairgrounds.

Radar imagery above courtesy of the NWS and Brad Panovich

At 8:58 PM, almost 10 minutes after the Indiana State Fairgrounds got struck by the damaging winds associated with the gust front, the Indianapolis National Weather Service issued a Severe Weather Statement calling for potential destructive winds in excess of 70 mph. The National Weather Service was obviously tracking the squall line and not the gust front as the warning text called for an estimated arrival time at the Indiana State Fairgrounds of 9:20 PM which would have been nearly 30 minutes after the fairgrounds had already been hit by the damaging winds.

A time line of events was released by the Indiana State Police showing the correspondence between public safety officials at the fairgrounds and the National Weather Service. It should be noted that the public safety officials and event planners at the fairgrounds made contact with the National Weather Service at 8:00 PM but no further contact was made after that point. The Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued at 8:39 PM. The gust front and damaging winds struck the the fairgrounds at 8:49 PM. You can click on the picture below for a larger more detailed version.

So after a lengthy blog entry above detailing the facts and circumstances of the disaster at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on August 13th, 2011, what went wrong?  Here’s my personal commentary.

1. There are apparently no building codes for outdoor temporary stages. In fact the Indiana Fairground incident is only one of three incidents that have occurred within the past two months. According to CNN, “Earlier this month, severe weather caused a stage to collapse before a Flaming Lips performance in Oklahoma. The August 6 incident occurred after heavy winds and rain pounded Tulsa, ending a block party music festival that featured Primus, the Flaming Lips and other acts. A lighting rig fell down and struck audio equipment and instruments. It was unclear whether there were any injuries. And last month, a severe storm toppled a stage when classic rock band Cheap Trick was performing. No one was seriously hurt during the incident at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest in Canada.”

There has been some debate that the winds that struck the Indiana State Fairgrounds might have not even reached “true” severe criteria of 58 mph. Some evidence to support these claims include the fact that there was little to no damage anywhere else across the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Between this incident, the Oklahoma incident and the Ottawa incident, it is quite clear that these temporary stages are not built to withstand even 50 to 60 mph winds which are somewhat common with thunderstorms during the summer months. Building and construction codes for temporary outdoor stages are critical and I would hope that we see legislation and law changes to require them!

2. The National Weather Service, as can be seen in my posts above, was obviously tracking the squall line itself rather than the gust front. Their timing of the storms arrival at the Indiana State Fairgrounds was almost 30 minutes off! The warning text also never made mention of the fact that the thunderstorm winds would arrive well before any precipitation. While the warning was issued prior to the damage at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the warning text was not clear and somewhat confusing compared to what actually occurred.

3. Early reports indicate that the only person at the Indiana Fairgrounds monitoring weather conditions was a State Police Special Operations Commander who was using his smartphone to view radar data. The following quote comes from the Indy Star Press, “Backstage, State Police special operations commander Brad Weaver was watching an ugly storm moving in on radar via his smartphone.” If this is true, and the only weather and radar data was a state police officer using his smart phone, then obvious there was room for significant errors. A smartphone radar application does not have the proper resolution to view weather and radar data and a police officer likely does not have the training required to make educated weather decisions. Any time there is a large outdoor event, event planners and organizers should have a special relationship with expert meteorologists in order to help provide specific warning information.  Generic National Weather Service forecasts and products are not enough because they don’t provide the information that the event planners need. Anytime there is a large outdoor event with thousands of people attending, there really should be some planning ahead of time to have a NWS meteorologist on site or to hire a private sector meteorologist to staff the event.

4. The Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued at 8:39 PM and evacuations did not begin until 8:45 PM. The 6 minute delay is significant in this case. Evacuations should have begun as soon as the Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued.

In closing, this was not a fluke or unpredicted event as indicated by the Indiana governor and other high ranking officials. The writing was on the wall for days and Severe Thunderstorm Watches and Warnings were issued prior to the stage collapse. While this event was extremely tragic, my hope is that it will serve as a wake up call for public safety officials and event planners. Weather has to be a priority at large outdoor events. The event staff typically hires law enforcement, Emergency medical personnel and fire personnel to be on site during the event, so why not a meteorologist? A meteorologist can provide valuable and detailed information as severe storms or even regular non severe thunderstorms are approaching. If a meteorologist was on site at the Indiana State Fairgrounds for the Sugarland concert, could it have saved lives? We’ll never know, but if I were a guessing man, I’d say there is a good chance that the meteorologist on site would have recognized the dangers well before the severe thunderstorm warning was issued and plans to evacuate the grandstands would have begun much sooner.

Thanks for taking time to read this long blog entry! Also be sure to take time to visit our websites, http://www.SWATChasers.com and http://www.SWATTours.com!

Brandon Redmond
http://www.SWATChasers.com
http://www.SWATTours.com
http://www.IndianaWeatherOnline.com