Thoughts on the Indiana State Fair Storm

Tony offers some weather tips to keep you and your family safe from severe weather.

 A Reminder, Safety First

The tragic events that unfolded at the Indiana State Fair on Saturday are an important reminder; namely, it is up to you as a savvy weather observer to know when to take cover during the summer storm season.
Having witnessed the video many times on U-Tube, I sense the scaffolding and stage area were not secure enough to withstand a “typical Indiana summer severe thunderstorm”.
Yes, storms like this are a way of life in America’s heartland in summer and during fair season. It is my opinion that all stage areas should be constructed to handle the type of winds that swept thru the fairgrounds. These were not hurricane force winds that lasted hours. Instead these were high winds that preceded the arrival of the deluge and thunderstorm.
Here are the weather tips you need to keep your family safe.
Before a summer squall hits, there are definite signs to watch for.
1.   The most obvious is the crackle of distant thunder. As a storm gets closer, the sound of the thunder will grow stronger. If you see a flash of lightning, start counting…one thousand and one, one thousand and two…etc.
For every 5 you count, that lightning bolt is 1 mile away. In general a count less than 25 means a storm is close enough by to take cover as a precaution.
At a busy fairgrounds, the rumble of distant thunder can be muted until the storm is closer by.
2.   Most storms announce their arrival by 10-20 minutes with a gust front. The gust front refers to the surge of cool air that rushes out ahead of the parent thunderstorm. A quick drop in temperature is a good sign a storm is close by.
3.   The “Gathering of Dark Clouds” is often a "fooler" since many storms give a head fake and pass by without any ruckus. Still, if you watch the clouds closely, the ceiling of the cloud deck will lower as a storm/squall is arriving. This will occur minutes before the storm hits.
If my interpretation of the Indiana storm is on target, the rush of cool air and the sudden darkening of the sky were felt/witnessed only minutes before the wind arrived.
One final word, I have traveled the fair circuit locally for 23 years and this year I have been at 6 fairs. Most have cement stage areas and covered grandstands that will provide some shelter from a sudden storm. All are within a 5 minute walk of your car or a shelter.
It is up to you to be proactive and seek shelter when the weather threatens.
One final word on the new media and modern day weather forecasts. It is recommended that you add a severe weather warning icon to your cell phone as a way to know when violent storms are expected.  WSAZ offers Severe Weather text notifications through our First Warning Personal Forecast or you can download the First Warning Weather Radio App for your iPhone.  (This is a paid app so think about it first.)  The National Weather Service issued timely warnings for the fairgrounds in Indy which gave people adequate time to seek shelter.
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