Over the weekend a very long line of powerful storms moved through Indianapolis, and through the Indianapolis State Fair. Five people were confirmed dead, and dozens injured as a result of very powerful straightline winds gusting out ahead of the storm and collapsing a large stage.
One of the things that upset me about this incident, besides the obvious loss of life and injuries, is that post-incident, information is now coming out that this could have been avoided… to an extent.
The National Weather Service is indicating that they gave a 30 minute lead time issuing their warnings. While fairgoers claim that they were informed ten minutes after that warning was issued, there was still enough time to move people away from that stage.
Winds preceding the line of storms were estimated between 60 and 70 mph. This is more than strong enough to collapse the stage. Essentially it was acting like a large parachute, or a beach umbrella. The canopy made it easier to become a dangerous object.
The major problem I have with this incident is not a matter of 40 minutes versus 20 minutes of warning. The organizers were well aware of the stong possibility of violent thunderstorms a day before the event. A “wait and see” attitude was taken instead of an “act and prevent” mode. This resulted in several injuries and the loss of life.
With the amount of people estimated at such an event, you need a lot more than an hour to evacuate or disassemble. There was roughly a 9 minute lead time to get out of this storm. Not nearly enough time to move to safety.
However, this was not a system that just “popped up”. It was being tracked several miles before it’s arrival. It doesn’t take a meteorologist to know that when you see a menacing line of red moving towards an area, you need a place of safety readily accessible.
Organizers were quoted as saying that this incident was a “Fluke of Nature” when in fact it was a classic situation of an organized severe weather event that could be followed well before the actual arrival.
While having smart phones with radar and text alert IS helpful, it only works when it’s taken seriously. And even then, that may not be enough.
Trust your gut! If a storm LOOKS ominous, don’t wait to see what happens, because it might be worse than you think.
Concerts and events can always be rescheduled, lives cannot. This is a situation where I believe something should have been done to be more proactive. Cancel or postpone an event at the risk it doesn’t happen and deal with the consequences then. Having people safe from what happened over the weekend would have come with a lot less criticism.
If an event IS cancelled, know that it was done so with thought involved. Move to safety if someone tells you to leave. You’ll never regret being safe over sorry. Trust your local meteorologists. Our job is to help keep you safe.