Are You Ready For Severe Weather at an Outdoor Event?

Are You Ready For Severe Weather at an Outdoor Event?
During summer, many people make plans to attend large outdoor events such as concerts, professional sports, fairs, festivals and even cookouts or other outdoor gatherings. Many people also participate in activities such as camping, boating, biking and hiking. Children and adults participate in recreational sports leagues.

When you are planning one of these type of events, weather will likely be a consideration. What would you do if thunderstorms or severe weather are in the forecast?

Thunderstorms and severe weather pose a number of hazards to people exposed to the elements, such as lightning, hail, damaging winds, flash flooding and even tornadoes. During the summer of 2011, concert stages were collapsed by storms in Ottawa Canada, Tulsa Oklahoma, Indianapolis Indiana and Hasselt Belgium. Twelve
people were killed and dozens were injured during these events.

Stage collapse
Stage collapses at Indiana State Fair 8/2011 Photo by Matt Kryger - Indianapolis Star

For the period 2008-2012, there was an average of 29 lightning fatalities per year in the United States. Many of the fatalities occurred when people were involved in recreational activities outdoors, such as fishing, biking or camping. As of June 2013, there have been 8 people killed from lightning. On May 31 2013,  a tornado struck the St. Louis MO
metro area while fans were waiting for the start of baseball game at Busch Stadium. The tornado ended up tracking across the northern end of the metro and did not impact downtown.

So how do you plan, prepare and protect yourself from thunderstorms while outdoors?


- Check the forecast. Go to (click on your location the map for your site specific forecast) or your favorite weather website or listen to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest information. Don't rely on the forecast you heard last night and make sure the forecast you are reading is the most up to date forecast. The weather changes and forecasts are continuously updated with the latest information.

- If thunderstorms are forecast, check the Hazardous Weather Outlook. It will provide details on specific thunderstorm threats as well as give timing and location of the thunderstorms. Know your watch/warning lingo and keep up to date on when they are issued. A Severe Thunderstorm or
Tornado Watch means conditions are favorable for the weather event in and close to the watch area. A Severe Thunderstorm or Tornado Warning means the weather event is immiment or already occurring - take shelter.

- Check for short term updates to the forecast such as our Short Term Graphicasts or posts to the NWS Paducah Facebook page or Twitter account. During higher end events, check our NWS Paducah You Tube channel for multimedia briefings:



- Become familiar with the venue. Where are the exits, restrooms or other potential shelter areas?

- Are there potential hazards in case lightning or high winds occur? Look for things like overhead power lines, trees limbs or loose objects that can become airborne or that could collapse in high winds like signs, trash cans or temporary structures like stages or scaffolding.

- Do you have a good view to the west - the direction most storms come from?


- Monitor the weather with a smart phone (using apps or the internet) or a portable NOAA Weather Radio.  The National Weather Service does not provide cell phone apps, but there are many that are available from private vendors. You can view radar images and have severe weather warnings sent to your phone as text messages. Check with your phone service provider or phone manufacturer's app store. Most cell phones will now receive certain types of warnings, like tornado warnings, through the Wireless Emergency Alerts.

- Take protective action if thunderstorms approach. Do not wait for an annoucement from the event organizer. Some event organizers work closely with local emergency management. They monitor weather and have specific severe weather emergency plans. Some do not. The personal safety of you and your family are YOUR responsibility. If you feel there is a significant threat from the weather, move to a safe location.

Damage to the Atlanta Motor Speedway from a F2 tornado 7/6/05 Photo by NWS Atlanta




- There is no safe place outdoors when lightning is occurring! Get inside an enclosed building. Picnic shelters, gazebos, porches, tents and awnings are NOT enclosed buildings and they offer NO protection from lightning. An enclosed metal vehicle with the windows up is also safe from lightning.

- Lightning often strikes the tallest object. Do not be in an open field where you are the tallest object. Avoid being next to tall items such as isolated trees, power poles or other objects that might be good lightning targets. At stadiums, get down to lower levels and indoor spaces in possible.

- Water is a good conductor of electricity. Do not be in a swimming pool or out boating on a river or lake if there is a lightning threat. Long metal bleachers and fences can conduct electricity long distances.

- If you see lightning or hear thunder, if is not safe to be outdoors. Do not wait until it starts to rain to take action. Lightning can strike several miles away from the parent thunderstorm, in places where it is not raining. Blue sky may even be visible. Remember, "When Lightning Roars, Go Indoors!"

- The National Weather Service does NOT issue warnings for lightning. Lightning does not give warning as to where it will strike, so be vigilant.


flooding in cape
Flooding in Cape Girardeau MO 6/17/13 - Courtesy of Laura Simon Southeast Missourian

- Do not park or camp in a low lying area or near a creek, stream or drainage ditch if heavy rain is expected. Even if it is not raining at your location, nearby heavy rain could cause creeks or streams to flood. When thunderstorms are in the area, stay alert for changing conditions. Know where higher ground is and move quickly if you see or hear rapidly
rising water.

- Nearly half of all flood fatalities are vehicle related. As little as 6 inches of water may cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicle including SUVs and pickups.

- Flooded roadways can mask potential dangers below. Flood water can eat away at the road underneath, causing you to be stranded or trapped if you attempt to cross a flooded road.  Also, what you think might be a road, may be a drainage ditch or creek that has filled up with water. When water covers a roadway, it is very easy to become disorientated since you cannot see where the road is and which way it goes.

- Keep up to date on any Flash Flood Warnings for your area which would tell you if any flooding is occurring in your area.

Never take chances -
Turn Around, Don't Drown.

- If outdoors (camping or biking etc), and your clothes become wet and temperatures drop, hyperthermia is possible, even in summer.


Jogger pelted by hail in Iowa                               Ft. Branch, IN 3/2/12 Scott Hartley
 April '10 Photo: Pat Crawford

- Cover your head and seek shelter. Picnic shelters, gazebos, porches, tents and awnings may provide temporary shelter from hail but they offer NO protection from lightning, which also occurs with most hail storms.

- If you experience large hail, like the size of golf balls or larger, you are likely in the core of a dangerous supercell thunderstorm. Supercells are also capable of producing tornadoes, damaging winds, heavy rain and frequent lightning. Move to sturdy shelter as quickly as possible.


Wind damage in Calloway County, KY April 10, 2009

- Be aware of loose lightweight objects that can become airborne and injure people such as trash bins or signs.

- Keep an eye out for tall objects that can topple or collapse such as tree limbs, power lines, scaffolding or temporary stages.

- Be mindful of large fabric covered objects that can act as sails such as tents, awnings, trampolines or stage backdrops.

- Seek shelter in a sturdy building and stay away from windows.

- If driving, be on the lookout for falling trees or large debris in the roadway, which at night, will be hard to see.


tornado ellsinore  ridgway church
Ellsinore MO Tornado 5/25/11 Janet Leach                  Tornado damage in Ridgway IL 2/29/12

- Have a portable NOAA Weather Radio, a WEA capable phone, or a cell phone app that can alert you when a tornado warning is issued for your area. Know where you are located (county, town etc). Warning areas are
described as portions of counties (Northern Massac County Illinois etc). Specific cities, highways and other landmarks are referenced in National Weather Service warnings. Warnings can be displayed graphically as a small polygon or box overlaid on a map or radar display:

Image courtesy of Iowa Environmental Mesonet - Iowa State University Department of Agronomy



- Move to a substantial shelter. The best shelter is underground in a basement. The next best shelter is reinforced concrete. If no basement or concrete shelter is available, go to a small interior room on the lowest floor, away from windows. A good rule of thumb is to put as many walls between you and the tornado as possible. Cover your body with pillow and blankets and where a helmet to protect yourself from flying debris.

- If you are camping or at an outdoor fair or festival with no shelter available, lie flat in a low spot, get behind a wall, berm, or embankment, lie flat and cover your head. Be aware of possible flash flooding in these low lying areas though.

- Temporary structures, campers, and mobile homes are poor tornado shelters. More than 40% of tornado fatalities occur in mobile homes. Vehicles can be pelted or damaged by blowing debris or they can become airborne and get crushed. Do not try to escape a tornado in your vehicle. Evacuate to more substantial shelter when a tornado watch is issued or if your area is in a moderate or high risk for severe weather. Once the tornado warnings is issued, it is probably too late to evacuate.


It is important to have a severe weather plan for any outdoor activity. Make sure everyone in your group knows the plan. Make sure to monitor weather by using a portable NOAA Weather Radio or smart phone app. Take immediate action and get to shelter if severe weather threatens. For more safety information, click here.

Have a safe summer!

NWS Paducah, KY

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