Last year, a Thor Guard lightning predictor sounded the alarm during the first quarter of a critical Florida Atlantic University football game against the Miami Hurricanes.
Fans, who packed the sold out FAU arena, and those watching at home bemoaned the hour-long delay, noting that thunderstorms were far west of the event. Later, the National Weather Service confirmed the storms were about 20 to 25 miles inland from FAU’s stadium in Boca Raton.
Whether the game delay was necessary is likely still debatable, but in a blog re-posted this morning by J. Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, he defends the NCAA’s lightning policy, which requires play be suspended if there is lightning within 8 miles of a stadium.
And he lamented the fact that even when players are pulled off the field, many fans remain in their seats, putting themselves at risk of getting struck.
“At a few stadiums, the fans only moved to the concourse levels once rain started,” Shepherd wrote. “I find this amusing and disturbing because ‘lightning can kill you, rain just gets you wet.'”
According to Alex Lamers, a NOAA meteorologist, Florida universities are at the top of the list for lightning-related delays.
FAU ranked fifth, preceded by Florida International University, the University of Miami, the University of South Florida University and the University of Central Florida . Central Florida also uses the Thor Guard system.
“Schools just want to keep people safe,” Lamers told The Palm Beach Post last year about weather-related game delays. “Generally delays will be earlier in the season when storms are more common.”
Check out Lamers’ interactive map here.
This year has had the most lightning-related deaths nationwide since 2007 with 35 so far, including seven in Florida, according to the National Weather Service.
Shepherd and his colleague John Trostel, director of the Severe Storms Research Center at Georgia Tech, advocate hiring a meteorologist for game days, or at least calling the local National Weather Service office if there’s a question about lightning in the area.
“Given how many people are at a game, how much they already spend, and the publicity surrounding college football, hiring an expert meteorologist seems prudent,” Trostel told The Palm Beach Post last year.