The Minnesota Twins chose not to announce a tornado warning that occurred during a game at Target Field in downtown Minneapolis Tuesday evening. Team officials say fans were not in danger and feared an announcement would cause panic.
The Twins have reviewed the policy regarding severe weather, and say they will not make changes.
As the skies darkened over Target Field Tuesday evening and the sirens began to sound, Twins staff members were in touch with the National Weather Service. The team's on-site meteorologist, Craig Edwards -- who has worked for MPR News -- was getting up-to-the minute reports on the movement of tornado-producing weather.
The Twins vice president of operations, Matt Hoy, says the worst of the storm was spotted about 30 miles northwest of downtown. Hoy says if the weather would have started moving toward Target Field, fans would have been told to move to safety.
"The concession stands and the restrooms are all on the exterior perimeter walls of the building. That allows us to move people into the concourse areas," said Hoy. "The whole lower deck area, if you go into the main concourse, is pretty well protected."
Hoy says fans sitting in the upper deck would be instructed by ushers and other security staff to take emergency stairways down to either the main concourse, or below to the service level. The service level is completely closed off to the outside and rings the entire field.
Hoy estimates it would take 12-15 minutes to move a full crowd from the seating areas out of harm's way.
"I think we have enough space, frankly, to accommodate pretty much everybody in the ballpark," he said.
There are also nearby parking ramps with interior hallways that can be used for shelter, Hoy added, but he says he would not encourage fans to leave Target Field during severe weather.
Hoy says the Twins are more prepared for severe weather than most Major League baseball teams.
For example, the Twins are the only team that has an on-site meteorologist, and they recently completed the National Weather Service's Storm Ready certification process. As a storm-ready building, Target Field is staffed with trained weather spotters, says Hoy.
"You also go through a review of your emergency plans with the local emergency preparedness folks, with the National Weather Service, and go through an application process," he said.
“The whole lower deck area, if you go into the main concourse, is pretty well protected.”Matt Hoy, Twins vice president
Target Field is the only non-governmental or non-municipal building in the state with such certification, he said.
Two other Midwestern teams, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds, play in ballparks that are certified storm ready, according to Hoy.
Kaufmann Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Royals, has several designated storm safety areas, including an underground tunnel, according to a team spokesman.
While the Twins draw around 40,000 people to Target Field for each game, the biggest outdoor draw every year in Minnesota is the State Fair, which also has a severe weather policy in place.
The fair's weather warning system includes a weather siren and on-site meteorologist, according to Brienna Schuette, marketing and communications manager for the fair. When bad weather strikes, fairgoers are told to head indoors.
"That's the one lucky thing about the fairgrounds is that there are so many permanent structures here," said Schuette. "What the police will do in a severe weather situation is they will tell people throughout the entire grounds to move into buildings and to move to shelter."
Schuette says there's even enough room indoors for all the livestock.
Of course, there are many outdoor fairs and festivals across the state that do not take place near permanent structures. Those kinds of events are not required to have a sever weather plan in place, but many of them do, according to Mike Siitari, director of emergency preparedness for Hennepin County.
He says severe weather planning is often part of the permitting process for festival organizers.
"Because it's such a common occurrence, each event does generally set up their own plan. But it's not a mandated event. I'm not aware of a law or procedure that says you must have that."