2020 was a year many of us would like to forget. Outdoor events were cancelled or rescheduled, remote learning became the new normal, and safety guidelines for health, and Covid avoidance changed every day. Covid was a new challenge for which no one ever planned. Therefore, poor planning and a lack of understanding of the disease created chaos in every direction.
Weather safety, on the other hand, has been a part of our daily concern every year. In most areas, spring is the time of year weather events begin challenging all of us. Fortunately, over the last thirty years, schools and universities, parks, athletic teams and every conceivable outdoor endeavor have taken positive actions to provide strong safety protocols for outdoor recreation and work.
You may be well-versed on the subject at hand, but you should always remember that there are new technologies and guidelines designed to help everyone push the limits of outdoor safety for their constituents. As a manager or administrator, it is also your responsibility to educate the public so that they can move forward and be safe anywhere they venture. They, in turn, can accurately educate others and save lives.
Lightning, Severe Storms, and Tornadoes
Lightning has traditionally been the most disruptive and dangerous weather event encountered every year. Many facilities utilize detection or prediction technology to help manage this menace. The two technologies are very different. Detection is a reactive approach to warning while prediction is a proactive management tool.
Simply stated, a stand-alone detection system or networked detection system will provide notification that a strike has occurred somewhere within an arbitrarily defined area. Because each strike is an independent event, the only method of advance warning in a specific area is through forecasting (guessing). A prediction system monitors and measured the energy in the local area that actually creates the lightning. In order to understand the differences, one needs to understand exactly how lightning forms and ultimately occurs.
A lightning strike is created when storms form and create the atmospheric conditions which produce large areas of positive and negative ions in the air and on the ground. Prior to a strike, these charges build over time and eventually grow large enough to allow the leader (cloud-based energy) to electrically couple with the streamer (ground-based energy). To our eyes (eyes are excellent detectors), the lightning strike is instantaneous and seemingly comes from nowhere. In reality, it does take time for the energy to build to a level that allows the two oppositely charged areas to collapse. The only method of anticipating a lightning strike prior to its occurrence is to measure the growing energy. These measurements and observations are made possible with a smart device much like a voltmeter. Regardless of whether the strike is a side strike, a back strike, a first strike or a bolt out of the blue, before the strike can materialize, it must grow large enough to overcome the air resistance between the clouds and the ground. If these areas of energy do not exist in the immediate area, there can be no lightning. Advanced lightning warning technology provides lightning detection as well as prediction.
When a lightning event occurs, the explosion of air within the ionized column creates a large electrical impulse which disturbs earth’s electromagnetic field. If you are in a stormy area, you can hear these impulses on your AM radio. These are the disruptions which detection systems use in order to “see” a lightning strike. Detection systems and networks were initially developed to provide lightning warning for very distant storms.
Severe storms are somewhat less of an issue because the national weather service issues watches and warnings for incoming storms. Typically, a severe storm is associated with a large area of storms. By the time the severe storm arrives, everyone has previously sought shelter. However, severe storms can cause wind and hail damage and may cause flooding. Once a severe storm warning has been issued, individuals must make certain the shelter they are using will protect them from these other storm forces. It has now been clearly documented that a severe storm is commonly a significant electrical event that can be monitored and predicted.
Tornadoes are the most destructive weather events, except for hurricanes, that are spawned on land. Watches and warnings should be taken seriously and considered a life-threatening event. Anyone in areas where tornadoes occur should be aware of locations considered safe and know how to get into these shelters. Even though warnings are not a guarantee that a tornado will impact your area specifically, it does not mean you can ignore the warning. Always assume there will be a local storm and seek the appropriate shelter without delay. Schools and universities should have well-placed evacuation directives where everyone visiting the facility can observe them. Similar to lightning and severe storms, tornadoes are usually major electrical events that can be measured accordingly.
Heat Exposure Dangers
In recent years, there have been more recorded incidents of heat-related injuries and death. Regardless of one’s age, heat exposure can be deadly, even if the individual is not exercising. Signs of heat exhaustion include cold shivers, faintness, weakness, confusion, excessive sweating and unexplained falls. People should always try and be aware of their own conditions and seek help, even if they just feel different or strange. During hot days, it should be everyone’s responsibility to watch those around them and look for any indications that another person may be in danger.
One well known method for calculating heat dangers is the wet bulb method. Calculations are made considering wind, UV radiation, humidity and temperature. Most of these calculations are made with hand-held devices. Another method of calculation is using the same atmospheric measurements with different algorithms applied. Many professionals do not like the wet-bulb technology and want an alternative, such as the heat index. Well-engineered technology will provide options for the end user from a single system for either technology.
Again, clear public service posters should be easily accessed at a facility. The poster should explain what heat warning one and heat warning two mean and what actions are recommended to avoid a dangerous tragedy. It would also be useful to direct people to different websites specific to heat-related health issues.
Spring Storm Season
Many of you have already worked hard to provide your campus areas evacuation and weather warning instructions in public areas. You have probably distributed much of this information on a website accessible to students, professors, visitors, and workers. It is important to understand each of these weather dangers and evaluate the completeness of your written and verbal safety notifications.
Also, do not overlook some of the new, state of the art technology that is available and can help with all of these weather-related dangers. Today’s new ultra-fast firmware has permitted some firms to make significant advancements over previous technology manufactured and installed over the last seven to ten years. Now is a good time to take a hard look at the new technology which can help make your job easier and you a more effective weather safety advocate.