Why Major League Baseball needs to update severe weather policy

I am a "baseball guy."

I played as a youth. I've coached for 7 years in the Minnetonka Baseball system. My 17 year old son is a pitcher/infielder on his Senior Babe Ruth team. I love the game and all things baseball.

I am also a meteorologist.

I served as a board member of my local Little League and helped them update and revise severe weather and lightning procedures to help keep kids and families safe while playing the game we all love. I researched and purchased a relatively low cost lightning detection option and installed it at Bennett Family Park in Minnetonka, where I am told it still operates to this day.

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As a meteorologist who studies and practices forecasting every day for the past 20+ years, I understand a little bit about the (sometimes hidden) dangers that severe weather and lightning poses to baseball.

Photo by Craig Edwards

I also have a bit of unique insight into how some Major Leage Baseball (MLB) teams approach severe weather coverage for open air stadiums full of 40,000+ fans, umpires, grounds crew and players who command multi million dollar salaries. I have filled in for Craig Edwards as the team meterologist at Target Field and provided prefessional weather support during Twins games.

The winter before Target Field opened, Craig Edwards and I approached the Minnesota Twins and discussed a proposal for weather support as the Twins the moved to outdoor baseball in Minnesota in 2010. Ultimately the Twins (wisely) decided to have a qualified, experienced meteorologist in house on game days, and for big events such as Sunday's first ever concert at Target Field.

In my opinion, it's time for all MLB teams to do the same.

Sunday: Tragedy narrowly averted in Texas

My post last night/this morning discussed the near miss from what appears to have been a direct lightning strike on the Ballpark at Arlington during the 4th inning if the Twins-Rangers game.

The lightning data I received from Tony Dello at Telvent-DTN supports the conclusion that it was a direct hit. The Cloud-to-Ground (CG) "discharge" occurred at 7:11pm CDT, and packed a punch of 70 kA according to data that likely originated from the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) based at Vaisala Corp. in Tucson, AZ.

Source: Telvent DTN

The primary stroke appears to have hit the upper canopy above the 3rd deck along the 3rd base line. A second arm may have hit an object very near the center field wall, within a few feet of fans and the center fielder for the Rangers.

Had the strike been more powerful or landed just a few feet away from either location, we might very well have been reporting on fatalities and injuries today.

First strike minutes earlier?

There are reports from fans in the ballpark (including one comment I've received directly on Updraft) and from Twins broadcasters during the telecast that there was a nearby lightning strike with audible thunder a few minutes before the strike that hit the stadium.

Apparently that first strike sparked a round of applause from fans, unaware that minutes later another bolt would hiss and hit the park directly.

Here are the details in my exchange this morning with Randall who was sitting in the 3rd deck at the game last night.

I was at this game. Sitting in Section 311, row 19, seat 13. I feel very certain my section and seat fall within the yellow box detailed in the Telvent pic you show in this article.

I can tell you it was an amazing sound. The air made hissing and crackling sounds a split second before this strike occurred over our heads. Wicked!

Posted by Randall | July 9, 2012 2:15 AM


Thanks Randall:

You and everybody else in the stadium were very lucky last night. I'm glad it turned out as well as it did.

The Twins announcers indicated in the clip that there was another strike close by a few minutes before this one, did you hear it? Was it audible in the stadium?


Posted by Paul Huttner | July 9, 2012 7:57 AM

I agree.

There was one minutes before that was audible as well off to the east of the stadium. In fact, it drew an ovation of cheers and claps from the crowd when it occurred. We should have held our applause for the encore minutes later. Ha. Much louder and much closer to home.


Keep in mind that the game was in full swing at the time of the second strike.

Therein lies the problem with what happened in Texas Sunday. Let me say this clearly.

The game should have been under suspension at 7:11pm when the second strike hit the stadium.

Players, umpires and grounds crew should have been off the field, and fans should have been directed under cover as best possible.

All rules of common sense and basic severe weather safety dictate that when you can hear thunder, storms are close enough to produce lightning strikes that can hit you. As meteorologists we drill this into listeners heads over and over again. There are many accounts of lightning striking the ground (and producing fatalities) 5, 10, even 20+ miles from thunderstorms.

The NWS has entire pages and brochures on lightning safety. The 30-30 rule is the generally agreed upon best practice for safety outdoors when thunderstorms approach. When you hear thunder, you should immediately go inside, and wait 30 minutes until after the last audible thunder is heard.

MLB failed to use basic severe weather and NWS lightning safety rules for large outdoor venues Sunday. The result was players, umpires and fans scrambling for cover, and the situation could have easily produced injuries and fatalities.

Source: Paul Huttner-MPR News

Proposed MLB severe weather policy changes:

It is my understanding from talking to multiple officials inside the Minnesota Twins organization that MLB policy states decisions about potential weather delays are controlled by the home team up until the first pitch is thrown.

After the first pitch is thrown in a game, the umpires control decisions about weather delays and severe weather safety.

It is my strong opinion that needs to change.

Here's why:

-MLB Umpires have plenty to focus on during a baseball game. They are not able to devote the necessary attention to approaching weather conditions that may affect fan/player safety.

-Even though MLB umpires may coordinate weather info with home team officials during a game, they are not weather experts. They are not trained to recognize subtle radar signatures that may indicate severe gust fronts that appear well ahead of storms, or satellite signatures that may indicate rapid development of lighting producing storms overhead or nearby.

-Stadiums have high structures that limit visibility of umpires to approaching weather threats. At Target Field for example the views to the west (the primary direction storms approach from) are totally obscured. Fans, players and umpires cannot even see a storm until it's right on top of the stadium. By that time, everyone in the stadium has been in danger of a stray lighting strike or approaching damaging winds or hail for several minutes.

A "solutions based" approach:

I have been working on this piece for a few weeks now in my head.

The events in Texas Sunday did not initiate my belief that MLB needs to update severe weather policy and procedures, but they are the last straw that prompted me to speak out today. I sincerely hope Sunday's events in Texas and voices like mine may play some small role in getting MLB to take a fresh look at severe weather policy during games.

There have been many other instances where severe weather has been dangerously close to injuring or killing fans or players in stadiums. Many fatalities have occurred on baseball fields, especially from lightning.

Here is what I propose MLB do to improve safety in stadiums as potential severe weather approaches MLB games.

1) Require all MLB home teams to have a trained, experienced meteorologist in house during all MLB games. One trained meteorologist, watching the radar and lightning detection networks can save lives and prevent a tragedy that MLB can avoid before it happens.

-MLB, you have valuable players making millions each season on the field. You have fans that pay significant dollars to support your team in the seats. You have high profile guests in the seats like MLB Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan (and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson?) as we saw in Sunday's video. For a few hundred bucks a game you can have a "weather MVP" in your weather lab that can help make the call to get players and fans to a place of safety before an incident like Sunday sends people scrambling for cover.

-The Minnesota Twins have set the bar for weather coverage in MLB. Follow the Twins model for having an in-house meteorologist on game days.

Twins meteorologist Craig Edwards on the Roof Deck

Photo by Paul Huttner-MPR News

2) Make the home team responsible for weather delays during the game.

-Umpires have too much to do and are not weather experts. Make the home team responsible for calling weather delays during play, with input from the team's meteorologist who is trained to monitor the latest severe weather warnings, radar and lightning data.

3) Require all MLB teams to have a state of the art "weather lab" in house that has dedicated access to current radar, real-time lightning data in house, and the latest NWS severe weather warnings.

4) Immediately notify all fans via scoreboard and stadium PA systems that a weather delay is in progress, what the specific threat is, and what they should do to (calmly) seek cover.

5) Implement a consistent, common sense severe weather safety plan that applies al all MLB teams, and train all teams' staff on a consistent, common sense best practices procedure that employs current NWS.

The events in Texas Sunday could have easily been avoided, and could have easily been much worse. Let's hope MLB will take notice and act quickly to move to an updated severe weather policy that improves the safety of everyone present at MLB games.

Here are some more resources about lightning safety otudoors.

-Ron Holle (lightning expert) chat with the AZ Daily Star

-NWS lightning safety page