Well it's late summer, and that means, sadly, I'm writing about yet another tragic show and weather related disaster. There's been so many of these tragic events that I have a whole blog category devoted to them. This time, it's the collapse of the Walker Brothers Circus tent, which injured many people and killed a father and his daughter (and of course there was the recent deadly tent collapse near Chicago).
I don't have much to add to this horrible tragedy, except to address the usual "it struck without warning" statement which I've already seen in a TV station report. While it's quite possible that this small circus (only about 100 people were apparently inside) did not warn its guests (which is to me, their responsibility), there certainly was a warning.
With five minutes of research I found that the National Weather Service office which covers all of New Hampshire is the Gray/Portland, ME office. Looking at this great warning archive site, I found that a warning had been issued for 21:23 UTC yesterday, which is 5:23pm local time. A severe thunderstorm warning means, "large hail, at least 3/4 inches (0.75 inches) in diameter, and/or damaging winds, at least 58 mph, or 50 knots."
Here's a Google Earth image showing the warning polygon, which clearly includes the fair site the circus was using:
According to the Manchester Union Leader newspaper, the tent collapsed at 5:46pm, twenty three minutes after the site went under a severe thunderstorm warning. 20 minutes is plenty of time to take action IF the show organizers had a plan; it seems they did not.
People go to shows to be entertained; audience safety once inside the venue is the promoters' responsibility. These promoters clearly did not take that responsibility seriously. Fortunately, we're seeing other, responsible, event organizers (like recently at Lollapalooza) routinely take this threat seriously, and this is great.
Update, 11pm: I looked up the show site for the Wood Dale Prairie Fest, where the other fatal tent collapse was, and sure enough, that site was under a warning starting at 2:21pm local time; the collapse was reported at 2:35pm. And as Erich Friend points out on his Theatre Safety blog, this show site is just west of Ohare radar so they could have easily had access to O'Hare's high res terminal doppler radar.