Weather throughout the weekend was great at the track, except for the early morning hours and the late afternoon hours on Saturday. At no time during the day on Saturday was the track placed under any kind of severe weather warning or significant weather advisory. If you had read Doug's entry Track Weather Safety And The Looming Disaster, you will see that either the track or the racing series was using a false warning for weather that was moving into the track area. If you haven't read it, you need to.
The track used a Severe Weather Advisory announcement on its PA system and on its TV system throughout the grounds on late Saturday afternoon. I was attending the weekend events with Doug, his son, and my son. We were told that we needed to evacuate the hospitality tent we were located at and make our way as quickly as possibly to our vehicle.
Back on April 27, 2011, my family and I were almost hit by the big EF4 tornado that swept through the Birmingham area. We were in the path that it was headed toward, but somehow turned east before temporarily lifting off the ground and then dropping back down a few miles away. That single event has affected my son deeply.
My son is 10 years old and has a mild form of Autism, called Asperger's Syndrome. He is highly functional, but also highly dependent on routine. Now, anytime that a severe weather warning is issued for our metropolitan area, he gets scared and tries to get in a comfort area to hide with his favorite items. Unfortunately, out in the open at Barber, he could not find a safe area to hide from the weather.
My argument about the event that transpired is that he read the screens at the track and heard the track announcer both say severe weather is approaching the area. Before he started getting really scared, I gave him a big hug and told him it is ok. Then I looked at my feed on my phone for severe weather. At the time, the closest severe storm to our area was a severe thunderstorm over 100 miles away in southeastern Alabama moving into Georgia. I reassured him that there was no severe weather threatening him and that they are only telling us to seek shelter because of possible lightning moving into our area.
I get that you want people to seek shelter from the lightning, and that you do not want to be responsible for people from being struck by lightning. Using the words SEVERE WEATHER caused people to freak out and rush to their cars and nearest tram stops. I believe that actually put more people in danger than it did good.
Hundreds of people were packed close together at tram stops waiting for a ride to their cars. Only problem with that is if a bolt of lightning struck somewhere close by those people, most of them would have been injured, and some possibly would have died. Having people spread out actually reduces the chance of the number of people being struck by lightning.
Another issue is that it caused a huge traffic jam of people trying to leave the property at one time. It took almost 20 minutes just to get to our car from the tram stop. It took us another 20 minutes just to be able to move from our parking space, another 10 minutes just to get out on the perimeter road from the parking lot, and another 20 minutes to leave the track property. What if a tornado was on the ground and about to move across the track property. With the massive traffic jam, hundreds of injuries and deaths could have happened due to the fact that you couldn't move and that people running to seek a ditch or some low-lying area may have been swept up before reaching that place.
Fortunately, the worst-case scenario didn't happen. One day it will though, if this problem is not corrected. My main focus for this small rant is that use the correct terminology when informing the public on approaching weather. Severe Weather is defined by an approaching storm that has either winds over 58MPH, damaging hail of 1 inch in diameter or greater, or a possible tornado. That is one reason why we started using live radar when informing our followers on Twitter when they are at the track. They can see for themselves the live look at where storms are and if they are severe.
That is why when there is threatening weather at an event that we are covering, we will live tweet out what to expect and what is currently going on with an approaching storm. I really wish the race series and the tracks will start using the appropriate wording when alerting fans to changing weather conditions. If its just a threat of lightning in the area, use the term Lightning Advisory. If its just a passing shower, just tell the fans that its just rain and there is no threat of lightning or severe weather. If the approaching storm shows severe characteristics, then use Severe Weather Advisory.
Using the wrong terminology not only causes chaos, it can cause unneeded injuries and death, and unnecessary fear in my 10 year old son.