Should the NFL Call Games Due to Weather?

Arrowhead Stadium in the snow.
Photo of by Tristan via Twitter
AccuWeather recently published an interesting article and poll on the subject of the NFL and its policy of playing most games during adverse weather. Before I make my suggestions I want to make a couple of clarifications. 

  • The 2018 Miami-Tennessee game was delayed by lightning, not just by rain. 
  • NFL games are rescheduled in event of a hurricane. They did just that in 2005 when Hurricane Wilma threatened a Chiefs v Miami game. 
My opinion: Things should continue as they are. NFL games should continue to be played in the snow and cold and similar conditions. It is part of the tradition of the game. However, I would make two changes:
  • Lightning delays often last too long in both college football and the NFL. This is due to the both using outdated science. 
  • As the article points out, there is far too much risk and disorganization when combining tornado risks and football stadiums full of fans. 
With regard to the latter hazard, there was a very close call at Iowa State University in 2005 when a damaging tornado passed within three miles of the stadium. The result was a mis-mash as this article explains:

Based on the approaching storm, at 4:45pm LST officials ordered an evacuation of the stadium based on a "scenario1" event," urging people to seek shelter in their cars to avoid lightning and hail. At this same time, a tornado was reported 8 miles southwest of the stadium. That information resulted in a "scenario 2" evacuation being ordered by 4:50 pm LST, and fans instead were told to seek shelter in large buildngs, most a 5–10-minute brisk walk away, stadium concourses, restrooms, and ditches. [The photo] shows the IEM webcam at 5:01pm LST from the ISU campus, one mile from the stadium, as a tornado caused F2 damage 3 miles NW of the stadium. More than10,000 people took shelter in the university’s Hilton Coliseum, with several thousand more walking to other buildings. Even larger numbers, however, remained outside and unsheltered. 

If 80,000 people are in a stadium, a 10-15 minute tornado warning will not suffice. In this era of mesoscale meteorological modeling, a game should be delayed or cancelled hours in advance when there is a high risk of tornadoes in the vicinity. If anything but the very weakest of tornadoes strike a stadium with thousands of people on the property there is a real chance of mass casualties. 

The ISU incident is one of several incidents in the new millennium: there was the 2004 near miss near the end of the Indy 500 and, the terrible deaths and maiming that occurred at the 2011 Sugarland Concert at the Indiana State Fair when fair officials and law enforcement disregarded warnings of high winds. 

The 2021 tornado season is right around the corner. If you run a venue or a sports team, I perform professional consulting in the field of safety during extreme weather and invite you to call. 


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