Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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Storm Highway by Dan RobinsonClick for an important message
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                   Monday, August 15, 2011 - 5:14PM CDT

8/13 Indiana State Fair stage collapse

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I thought I would post this to add my voice to many others in the field of severe weather that this event was highly preventable, and by no means a 'fluke' as described. 90% to 100% blame should go to the structural integrity of the stage. A few thoughts/observations:

  • This appears to be a fairly routine severe/borderline-severe MCS (meso-convective system, in other words an organized complex of storms) gust front event for the Midwest in the summer. These happen almost every day in July and August anywhere from the Dakotas to Ohio (it's why I moved out here - we get more storms!). Outdoor stage encounters with strong winds are common and numerous during the summer, most without incident.
  • Official storm reports show very few damage reports from this event in the Indianapolis region. Significant severe winds typically cause many damage reports, numerous downed trees and widespread power outages. We saw none of that high amount of those three factors as a result of Saturday's storm.
  • Based simply on my own experience, I doubt that winds in the video are reaching 70mph or even 60mph. Video shows no other damaged tents/large airborne debris indicative of significant severe winds. The stage is the only casualty. Large amounts of dust and small debris are common during gust front winds of 40-50mph or lower - I personally see it a dozen or more times a year.
  • The stage structure was tall, top-heavy, lacked basic cross-bracing members, was covered with a wind-catching solid tarp, and appeared to go down almost immediately as the winds began. Photos showed tensioned guy wires were in place, but obviously they were not adequately anchored and dislodged instantly as the winds began.
Contributing to the deficiency of pre-awareness of the event was the fact that no one apparently recognized the radar-visible outflow ahead of the storms (the 'thin blue line' ahead of the storms on radar that is a classic signature of outflow winds) nor the approaching shelf cloud (another surefire visual indicator of a strong gust front). Instead, all relied totally on the precip core reflectivity on radar for the storm's position.

However, notwithstanding, the primary blame for this tragedy, by far, is the poor construction of the stage. It's summertime in the Midwest - these storms are not flukes, they are everyday events. When setting up such a structure in the Plains or Midwestern USA in the spring or summer - regions known for having the strongest thunderstorms in the world - there's no excuse for not planning for winds in storms such as these.

Excellent posts/analyses on this event from prominent meteorology/severe storms professionals can be read at the following links:

30 Years of Storm Chasing & Photography
Important Message
Dan's YouTube Video Channel
Dan's Twitter feed
Dan's RSS/XML feed

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