If you've been following our blog through this IndyCar season, you'll know that we've been keeping a record of IndyCar's weather messages to fans when thunderstorms threaten the track. These messages have been poorly worded and inconsistent, and certainly have not been promoting good weather safety actions. So far, we have documented these messages at NOLA, Barber (here and here), and GP of Indianapolis. Now we can add Saturday's race in the Belle Isle doubleheader to the list of confusing weather messages that are being sent to fans. And in my opinion, this may be the most confusing message sent this season.
I was not at the Belle Isle race, so the information about the weather messages from Saturday's race was gathered through Twitter from fans who were at the track. Special thanks to Shay Hazen (@SHAYZEN), Angelica Haggert (@angelicahh89), and Rich (@HailYost98) for providing most of the details to me. Here is the sequence of events as I understand them:
At approximately 5:10 pm, the red flag was thrown to stop the race due to lightning in the area, and this weather message was posted on the video screens around the track:
Also note what this message does not contain - there is no call for fans to seek shelter. Even though lightning was approaching, there is no urgency to seek shelter in this message. In fact, it seems to encourage fans to remain in their seats by stating that racing action will continue. Eyewitness reports from the track said that thunder was heard before this message was posted, yet the grandstands were not evacuated at this point. If there was lightning close enough to the track to hear thunder and stop the race, why were the grandstands not evacuated immediately?
About 5 to 7 minutes after the red flag was shown to stop the race and drivers exited their cars, there was a verbal announcement over the PA system for fans to evacuate the grandstands. Estimating from eyewitness reports I received, this verbal evacuation call came 10 to 15 minutes AFTER thunder was first heard. Meanwhile, the graphic on the video screens still did not call for an evacuation, conflicting with what fans were hearing over the PA system and causing a lot of confusion. Finally, the race was called off at 5:25 pm. Rich described the weather notifications as "horrible". Angelica told me the situation was "very confusing".
This sequence of events is inexcusable, and fans were put at risk because of it. There is no reason why fans should be getting conflicting messages about weather. There are so many tools available to bring weather information to series and track officials, and there are certainly meteorologists available who can help interpret this information accurately. The solution to these problems are so incredibly simple. Sending a clear, concise, and consistent message about threatening weather isn't difficult - it just needs to be made a priority by those in charge. I pray that it does not take a weather disaster before changes are made.
Scott has experience in graphic design, and he is working on creating graphics that would clearly and effectively alert race fans to threatening weather.