Tragedy Easily Avoided or Fluke of Nature?

By now, I am sure most of you have heard about the disaster that occurred at the Indiana State Fair. For those that haven't, high wind from a t-storm brought down a temporary stage killing 5 people and injuring over 40. Certainly a sad, sad, deal... Many are asking how something like this could happen? Why wasn't the event called off? Weren't weather forecasters doing their job warning people? Weren't Fair Officials doing their job warning people? Some are saying that this was a "fluke of nature" and couldn't have been avoided. In this blog, I am going to answer some of those questions and pose some to you as a reader.  The YouTube link below is awful, but let's start by looking at the video.  Let me know what you see...

1) Weather Forecast: Severe storms were correctly forecast to hit central Indiana this day. Local meteorologists and meteorologists at The Storm Prediction Center accurately placed Indiana in the severe weather threat for later in the day, indicating that wind gusts over 60 mph would be possible with ANY storm that developed. In fact, at the time the wind hit the stage, a Severe T-Storm Warning was in effect. Did weather forecasters do their job? I would say yes...  However, there was some pretty strong outflow wind ahead of the main line of storms, that I think could have been highlighted better.  T-Storm outflow can exceed 60 mph, and it appears that this is what caused the stage to collapse, and not the "big red nasty cell on radar". 

2) Fair Officials: Evidently, Fair Officials were warning people to evacuate the facility, but only after the wind had started to come up. Were they monitoring accurate radar images or did they have a meteorologist they were consulting?  I don't know.  Some people didn't wait for officials to tell them what to do, and did leave the area and sought safe shelter. I wasn't there, so I don't know if they were indeed doing their job. However, when you start warning people when the wind is already blowing, that doesn't give folks a whole lot of time to get to safety. Were they doing their job? From what I can gather to form my opinion, I think they failed. Warning people when the weather starts to get bad, is too late. Again, I wasn't there, so I don't know...

3) Event Cancellation: Some are saying that officials should have cancelled the event. Well, this is a sticky situation for those in charge to make that decision. Call it off and nothing happens and you have a lot of angry people. Don't call it off and something tragic happens, and you have a lot of angry people. However, I would rather be angry about the event being called off and nothing happen, versus not calling it off and having something tragic happen. Kind of a lose lose for the Fair Officials isn't it? However, if those same officials have a definitive plan in place when the weather gets bad, this is a good start. Marking where to go in case of bad weather, and posting such information throughout the fairgrounds and on their website. Again, arming people with the info they need to get to safety and stay safe. Did they do their job? Cancellation? Tough to say, but tough decisions need to be made to keep people safe. Providing people with good quality information on where to go during severe weather? They could do a much better job...

4) Concert Attendees: Yup, good old fashioned personal responsibility comes into play here. Did the people know what to do? Some may say I am insensitive, heartless, callous, etc. for bringing this up. However, it is a very big issue. Did the people know the weather forecast before going to the concert? Did they know what to do and where to go in case of bad weather(same could be said for a potential fire too)? Did they see the dark clouds coming, hear thunder, etc., which are all classic signals bad weather is in the area? Did they ignore these "natural" warnings and just assume it wouldn't impact their area/concert? Obviously, I don't have the answer to any of these questions. However, actions speak louder than words. In much of that tragic video, people are just standing around watching the storm roll in and the event unfold. Standing under or beside the stage rigging that would inevitably collapse. Just as the Fair Officials have responsibility as I have listed above, people have to take responsibility too. In these times of always looking for someone to blame when things go wrong, one has to take responsibility for one's actions. In my mind, many, many, many people didn't take the correct steps to protect themselves. Thus, 5 people were killed and 40+ were injured. All too often, these type of events are very unforgiving, and when people do not take personal responsibility, sadly the event is magnified.

5) This was a "fluke of nature": Many are saying that this was a "fluke of nature". Even the Indiana Governor said those same words. Really? Strong storms in Indiana in the summer a fluke? Strong storms producing wind gusts over 50 mph? Those things don't sound like a fluke to me. Strong storms impacting a major metro area with people attending an outdoor event? That doesn't even sound like a fluke to me. This same event happened in Ottawa, Canada less than a month ago. Luckily, only 5 people were injured in that storm. None of this sounds rare or flukeish to me. Take a look at this last spring when so many devastating tornadoes struck major metro areas. Was that a fluke? No, tornadoes happen all the time. Tornadoes striking cities at that high of a rate was something we haven't seen. However, with city expansion and houses being in places that they weren't 15 years ago, it really isn't that hard to comprehend. But, when people can't come to grips with what has happened, or the blame game starts, you hear people talk about how it is "unpredictable" or "rare" or in this case " a fluke". Fact is, this event was not a fluke. I don't care what anybody says... Yet when someone calls it a fluke, the event is dismissed as something that won't happen again or happen to them.

But, what does all of this mean? Five people are still dead, 40+ injured, and lives are changed forever. What this means is that people ( planners and public alike ) still do not take the weather or the threat of bad weather seriously enough. Many venues still do not have safety plans for weather or anything else, because planners don't think it can happen to them. How many more of these type of tragedies have to occur, before people wake up? I hope no more, because these types of tragedies are easily prevented.

I spend a lot of my personal time educating kids and adults about severe weather and general weather safety. Everytime one of these things happens, I feel like I have failed as a communicator. I am always trying to make the information easy to acquire and understand. Is it me who is failing or the people who have the correct information, but refuse to use it? That is for you to decide. All I am going to do is try to do my job better, so my viewers, family, and friends have the essential information needed to stay safe.

Chief Meteorologist Brian Bledsoe

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  • by Brian Location: Weather Center on Aug 16, 2011 at 09:23 PM
    Yup, it is too bad that people don't pay attention to warnings. Then when something bad happens that could have been prevented, it is painted as some type of extreme event. Personal responsibility is fleeting...
  • by Scott Location: West Virginia on Aug 15, 2011 at 07:44 AM
    You would think that people in places like Indiana, where severe storms happen all the time, would have some weather sense. But then, what happens when a large tornado approaches a city in Texas or Alabama or Oklahoma? People hop in their cars and start driving right in line with the oncoming path, trying to get away, then they get blown out of overpasses and killed. I think some people regard weather awareness as somehow dorky or uncool, something that doesn't apply to them.
  • by Lisa Location: Pueblo West, CO on Aug 14, 2011 at 07:54 PM
    I agree whole heartedly with all of the above. Looking at the videos and see how hard the wind was blowing, why did they all stay? I can see that there were a bunch leaving from the ground area but they should have left a long time before this happened. Sad to hear of the injured and dead but I believe this could have been avoided. Kudos to the 1st responders and the dispatch center. I listened to the dispatch tape and it was crazy. I do that for a living and cant imagine dealing with this.
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