The dramatic video above shows the stage collapse that took place just before 9pm EDT yesterday evening (see report below) at the Indiana State Fair. As of this writing, 5 people have reportedly been killed, with over 45 injured. A truly tragic event by any standard.
A Severe Thunderstorm Warning had been issued by the local National Weather Service (NWS) office in Indianapolis at 8:39 PM EDT. I've copied and pasted the text of the original warning below, and highlighted the portion referencing damaging winds in excess of 60 mph being possible with the storm:
The Indiana State Fairgrounds are located in Indianapolis, which is in Marion County. I found it interesting that the original NWS warning product did not even mention the estimated time of arrival to the Fairgrounds, particularly in light of the fact that the State Fair was an ongoing event in which there were a large number of people outdoors.
In the first update that followed the original warning issuance, the damaging wind potential was increased to 70 mph and the Fairgrounds were finally mentioned (see highlighted portions below):
I'm sure you've noticed the problem by now. The update, issued at 8:58 PM EDT, gave an estimated time of arrival to the fairgrounds of 9:20 PM EDT. According to the police chief, the stage collapsed at 8:55 PM, some 20+ minutes before the time of impact estimate that was given in the updated statement. (In fact, it appears that the damage was literally being done at or near the very moment the update was being issued at 8:58 PM EDT).
The "time problem" was alluded to in a statement that the Governor of Indiana made at a news conference yesterday evening. I have cut and pasted his comment from an article posted on the Indystar below, and highlighted the time reference:
There's no question that the lack of a call to action for the Fairgrounds in the original warning and the way-off time of arrival estimate given for the Fairgrounds in the next update were horrible, however I have a hard time agreeing with the Governor when he says that he "stands by the Fair's preparedness measures". They, too, seemed to be lackluster. If you read further down in the same article you'll see this revelation regarding the "prepardness measures" at the Fairgrounds yesterday evening:
On his smartphone? Really, the Special Operations Commander and fair Executive Director were monitoring the potential for incoming severe weather on a smartphone? I'm sure many of the fans out in the crowd were as well, but most of them weren't expecting to make a life or death decision on it.
This comes back to a point that I've tried to make many times on this blog. When it comes to severe weather safety and preparedness at a major public event, the organizers and/or managers of such an event need to leave it to a professional to monitor the weather for them - not a layman watching the weather on a smartphone (or even on a computer via the internet for that matter).
One (like the Governor) would argue that they did, to some extent, leave it to the professionals (referring to the NWS) but they were given some bad information with respect to the estimated time of arrival. Perhaps if the Fairgrounds had been referenced in the original NWS warning issued at 8:39 PM the organizers would have taken some action earlier and avoided this tragedy - but we will never know whether that would have happened or not...
I mentioned early on in this posting that the NWS usually keeps up with major public events like a State Fair in order to keep an extra "eye out" with respect to public safety. With that said, the NWS is not mandated to give site-specific warnings for individual commercial events or entities (Fairs included). It is my opinion, and unfortunately well illustrated by this tragic event, that organizers should not try and take on this enormous responsibility themselves, but rather hire a professional, private sector meteorologist to monitor the event for them.
Until this issue is taken seriously, I'm afraid this won't be the last weather related tragedy that we read about at what should have otherwise been a fun, family event.
Our thoughts and prayers certainly go out to those victims of last night's tragedy, as well as those who are recovering.
**Update 12:40 PM CDT: I have just made a separate post regarding the radar imagery associated with this event. You can view that post here.
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