As we mourn those lost, pray for those injured and thank the many who came to the rescue we should all examine how we can better prevent such a tragedy. The Indiana Occupational Safety Administration (IOSHA) will be on scene sifting through the wreckage for answers. Baring any major structural flaw it appears that winds gusting in excess of 70mph knocked over the stage scaffolding (that caught the wind like a sail) like it was a house of cards.
The winds Saturday night were a classic example (below) of a microburst/gust front that forms along and a head of storms when "heavier" rain cooled air rushes down to the surface. As in this case, these bursts of wind can reach hurricane strength and can be just if not more destructive than a tornado.
from RTV 6 in Indianapolis, you can see the gust of wind coming just ahead of the approaching storm and ramming into the stage.
What can be learned from this? Hind sight is 20/20 but a few things came to my mind that could be improved upon.
1) Officials at the fair could have better stressed the severity of the situation, according to the time line
released by Indiana State Police, the fair was briefed by the National Weather Service (NWS) hours prior to the storm and again when a Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued by the NWS. Announcing to the crowd that a Severe Thunderstorm is Approaching and "telling them where to seek shelter" is a different than an ordered evacuation,stating severe weather with gusty winds, lightning and heavy rain then using ushers and police to clear the area and that if you don't you stay at your own RISK. The latter better states the potential severity of the situation.
2) As a meteorologist I know this will be a lesson to myself and my colleagues to again better stress potential and time frame. Recently during the Elkhart County Fair storms were moving through Michiana and I turned to twitter @elkhartco4hfair
with weather and radar updates to show the strongest storms staying south of Goshen. I will always keep the State Fair Tragedy as an example in mind when evaluating a storm and potential impacts and how to relay the message.
3) For the lay person listen to directions from officials, pay careful attention to warnings and know your surroundings when severe weather is approaching. What can fall on me? What debris could fly at me? Where is the safest place to take shelter? Keeping these in the back of your mind could help keep you safe.
4) Straight line winds are just as, if not more dangerous than tornadoes.There were no sirens prior to this because this was NOT a tornado, this was a Severe Thunderstorm. There is a stigma that only a tornado could cause such death and destruction, that is NOT TRUE. This is a classic example of the power of straight line winds.