Salt Lake City’s Delta Center in 1999, Atlanta’s Georgia Dome in 2008 and now, the worst of them all, the RimRock Arena in 2010. Yesterday afternoon, a tornado ripped through Northeast sections of Billings, MT affecting the MetraPark area. Inside MetraPark is RimRock Arena with a seating capacity of 8,700. The tornado went right over the arena with an estimated EF-2 strength, which equates to estimated wind speeds between 110-135 MPH. Here is video of the Billings tornado as it sat over the MetroPark The damage, as you can see from the picture, is pretty bad. Parts of the roof were ripped off and the damage inside is substantial as it may even be too much to fix and clean up. These storms were unusual in that they developed right over Billings and their initial propagation was slow, which may have lead to the tornado moving slowly and affecting the area for a longer period of time. The ingredients (specifically the directional shear) were there for tornadoes and forecasters did a great job with a Tornado Watch and the subsequent warning.
The scariest thing about the incident is that if it happened 20 hours earlier, 3785 people would have been inside watching a Billings Outlaws indoor football game. What do you do? Where do you evacuate all of these people? These are the questions that are extremely difficult to answer and I hope that arena managers and stadium security at least start thinking about it. I hope they don’t use the thinking “What are the chances it happens here”…because as you have seen in the last ten years dangerous severe weather can affect any spot in the country, including stadiums. It’s frightening to think of what could happen at one of the thousands of sporting venues across the country if a tornado or lightning or hail affects the stadium while a game is in progress or even in a delay. Where do the people go? I have no idea, but hopefully people will start to think about it and create answers.
On a totally unrelated note…I’m headed to a trade show in Providence, RI on Thursday. I guess it’s kind of related because it’s for work, which involves weather. However, this is a snow & ice conference that we will have an exhibit for. I digress. Our hotel is right next to the Dunkin Donuts Center, so I will be checking out as much of that building as I can. Hopefully, I can get inside. Unfortunately, the nearby Pawtucket Red Sox are on the road, which is a shame because I really wanted to see McCoy Stadium. Instead, I’m going to try to head Northeast by about 50 minutes into Massachusetts for a Brockton Rox game at Campanelli Stadium.