I hate to see yet another stage roof collapse but it sounds at least that the producers of the Back to the Bricks Festival near Flint, Michigan show handled it correctly yesterday. They got warning of an approaching severe storm, they cancelled the show, got the audience out, and then later the stage roof blew down and apparently no one was hurt. This is the way it's supposed to work.
There are always weather conditions that can cause any structure to collapse (tornadoes can scrub well built buildings down the foundation), so as I've written here so many times what's really important is that organizers are watching conditions and ready to put in an action plan.
Screen shot from this very short video clip.
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 airport so they could have easily had access to O'Hare's high res terminal doppler radar.
For the last few years (here's last year's writeup), I've headed out storm chasing (explanations here and here) on the Great Plains as soon as my classes end, which is also generally also the end of peak chasing season in the southern plains. This year I flew into Dallas (best flight/car rental pricing), and then headed up to Wichita Falls, Texas. This time last year, Wichita Falls was under an epic drought; this year, they got years' worth of rain just in the month of May. I've got before and after photos of Lake Arrowhead here. And from there, I ended up doing 3500 miles in a couple giant loops of north Texas and southern Oklahoma, with a brief jaunt into eastern New Mexico.
The first part of the trip there wasn't a whole lot going on weather wise, and I missed some of the few big storms that happened, but I did see flooding in Wichita Falls, a severe-warned gust front gust front, and then more flooding, the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, and even a wild boar. I saw him jump across a little gap in a field and then he was washed away and had a long swim. After that, I got on the north side of a crazy tornado-warned blob of hail, and it ended up chasing me into suburban Wichita Falls, TX, where I rode the storm out in a car wash (there was big hail in this storm).
Click on any photo for a larger version:
On May 27, I picked a target of Shamrock, TX, which put me in a great position to get on the amazing (and well documented by 100's of chasers) Canadian, Texas storm. This storm moved slowly and erratically, and I was one of only a handful of chasers to end up on the back (West) side of the main tornado, as you can see in the photos below. This storm moved slowly and dropped at least four tornadoes if not more.
After that storm, things got spotty again, and I drifted back to Amarillo (and the Cadillac ranch) and then onto Lubbock where I set up for the arrival of a huge severe-warned gust front. I didn't get great photos because I got road raged by a redneck in the first town I set up in, then eaten alive by mosquitoes in several other spots because of the severe and widespread flooding. I ended up in a bank drive through west of Lubbock and held down the tripod through 30-50 MPH winds and many technical problems to get a few lightning shots.
The weather then moved too far north for me to get to and make it back in time to Dallas for my flight, so I met some old friends in Fort Worth and saw a couple great bands (photos here) thanks to the recommendation from another friend. I also saw some of the Trinity River flooding.
All in all, it was a great trip, and I hope to be back out there again next year...
Last year when I was out storm chasing (highlights here), I stayed in Wichita Falls, Texas, which has been under a multi-year, extreme drought. On May 28 last year, I took photos of Lake Arrowhead, which is part of Wichita Falls' drinking water supply. After the extreme rains of the last month, I stopped by there yesterday, and the change is dramatic. Here's some before and after photos:
A couple more from last year:
Of course, all that rain, while so beneficial to drinking water supplies, has caused some serious flooding problems as well.