Expert Q/A

Accuweather Severe Weather Expert

Interviewer: Maria King
Expert: Michael Smith
Date: April 1, 2013
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Today I am speaking with Michael Smith Sr. Vice President/Chief Innovation Executive AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, from Accuweather. Mike is an expert on the effects of extreme weather on business and society. I invited Mike to get a better understanding about how critical this kind of tracking is to event safety and security. It is a crucial element to any good security plan. Mike has written two books on the subject, Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather and When the Sirens Were Silent and is considered an industry leader in the field. Welcome Mike, This subject is one of concern to all event producers who are responsible for the safety of their guests and I thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

I know from my years consulting with events that many events like to use local weather forecasts as their guide for making key decisions about weather related issues during their events. What is the problem with that strategy from your perspective?

If you have a cold, your family physician is fine. But, if you have heart disease you want a specialist: A cardiologist who is experienced with the type of surgery you need. Your local meteorologist is great in most situations. But, when it comes to a tornado, lightning, or an ice storm, you want an experienced specialist that can provide you with the most accurate, timely and objective information possible.

I did a little research to see how often local meteorologists handled tornado warning situations last year (2012). In Kansas City, it was two days. Indianapolis 19 days. Nashville, 20. Our meteorologists, because we handle all of North America, issued tornado warnings on 164 days last year!

Well local TV weather persons are usually meteorologists. Why wouldn’t their interpretations be enough for me to trust what they say?

There is an experience factor that I just mentioned plus we are forecasting for and monitoring your specific venue. A television meteorologist is attempting to cover his or her viewing area equally.

A subtle advantage is, because we are not local, we are not invested in your event. How is that an advantage? Because we are objective. The meteorologist with the station that is co-sponsoring your event might not be. We work for and with you, to help you make the most informed decisions.

Ok, so now I get the message that I am not a meteorologist and just like everyone else, I want to hear an “expert” tell me what I want to hear, not what the truth might be. So I totally agree that it is human nature to search for that answer. But I still need to solve my initial problem of the weather and a way to get the perfect weather forecast for my event. I know that AccuWeather has a solution. Can you tell us a little about it?

AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, since 1987, has been in the business of making the “hard decisions.” In addition to highly experienced meteorologists, we have unique technology that helps us process and base decisions on data often not available to others. We are willing to make the hard decisions for the event producers so they can focus on running a successful event rather than playing “amateur meteorologist.”

Our service is very popular and we have many high profile event clients. We work with LiveNation, numerous professional and collegiate sports teams, and fairs from the State Fair of Texas down to the county level. The name of our service is SkyGuard®. Our website: And, for SkyGuard specifically,

Event producers typically spend an enormous amount of time and money designing and implementing security plans because they recognize that the safety of their attendees is a serious issue. But you know as a producer costs are always a consideration. Are there various levels of the service that a producer could purchase based on their own budget?

There are various levels of involvement on our part. You can request 24-hour a day monitoring or only the hours that the event is in progress. You can also have a person on-site if you choose but it is not necessary, given today’s technology. Our services are entirely customized to your event’s needs. Naturally, an indoor event may not need this service as extensively as an outdoor event. A single day occurrence is definitely going to be less expensive than a week-long event and so on. You do have some control over the costs. Therefore it should be budgeted as any other expense.

What are the questions an event producer need to ask themselves when they are establishing a weather safety and evacuation plan with this service?

Well let me just say that the process involves a lot more then just signing up. There is a lot of input required from the producer to determine the answers -- before the event begins -- to a number of critical issues:

WHO (one person) interfaces with the meteorologist? More than one creates confusion. How will time critical information (lightning warning, for example) be conveyed?

How long does it take to shelter and/or evacuate? In meteorology, there is always a trade-off between "lead time" (the interval from when the forecast is made to when the storm arrives) and accuracy. So, you need to determine the amount of time you need, add ten minutes or so for safety, then lock it down. If thirty minutes is sufficient to shelter, don't ask the meteorologist for one hour.

How are you going to communicate a storm warning to the staff and to the guests? This question isn't just whether you are going to use a public address system, what language will you use? When you convey the warning you need to add the appropriate precautionary measures. For example, if it is a lightning warning, where do you want them to take shelter? Panic is surprisingly rare, but social research shows that one of the few ways panic is induced is when people are given a warning of some type and then given no information or conflicting information about what measures to take.

You may wish to write critical messaging out in advance: "A tornado warning has been issued. Everyone should move to the arena building or to the fairgrounds office immediately. We will keep you posted as we get more information. To repeat, a tornado warning has been issued. Please move to the arena building or fairgrounds office immediately."

Mark your shelters in advance!

Never change the procedures in the middle of a severe weather event. Confusion is the most dangerous condition in lightning, tornado, or high winds. Do a review after the event is over and make the changes then.

For rural events, a road that is fine in dry conditions may become a quagmire in heavy rains. Be prepared to barricade unsafe roads when weather conditions demand.

Excellent advice and thank you, Mike for being our guest expert on weather. This information is extremely valuable to our event producers especially in light of recent tragic accidents that were directly related to miscalculations by events of weather situations. Many producers are so busy with their daily issues that they may overlook this element of event safety. I have noticed that in many cases they still do not assign that same sense of importance to weather even though it is critical to the safety of their attendees. Hopefully now after this discussion they will. I am so happy we had a chance to help our audience become a little more aware and informed about the proper way to monitor weather at their events.

Maria can be reached directly at
or visit her website at

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