Tips From The Pros
as a head turf manager in professional football. He graduated from Colorado State University’s Turfgrass Management program
and now operates and owns Championship Sports Turf Systems.
Severe Weather Season for the Sports Field Manager
Severe weather season in North America is typically associated with springtime but we know severe weather threats exist year-round. As we play and watch our favorite outdoor sports with the warmer days, it is a good time to refresh and build upon how we manage the work and people in your sports field management operation.
We humans have come a long way in overcoming many of the challenges nature presents to us, but we can also be lulled into a place where we no longer are aware of our natural surroundings and are always surprised by anything but averages in weather. I hear TV weather anchors say things like “We had a high temperature of 59 degrees today in Anytown, and that’s almost 20 degrees below where we should be this time of year”. Should?
I believe that anyone working outdoors or involved in outdoor sports should first educate themselves on severe weather threats and then make it part of everyone’s daily conscious thought on the turf team. Daily awareness, communication and observations/monitoring can go a long way in minimizing these threats to yourself and your turf team.
There are plenty of freely available resources and platforms for you and your organization to develop an overall severe weather plan for your facilities and staff. It’s likely you already have such plans in place from what I see, so my focus is more towards how severe weather threats affect the field managers and their work. As always, coordinate your plans with administration before launching them.
Many sports field managers use some sort of mobile phone alerts as part of a facility/organizational subscription to a private weather service, either locally or online. If this isn’t your situation, maybe consider a good weather app with severe weather alerts. Here is a recent review of some weather apps in Popular Mechanics. For severe weather alerts, I have subscribed to StormShield for several years now. Unlike some of the other apps I’ve tried, this one follows you when you travel and sends out NWS weather alerts for wherever you happen to be. It uses an audible notification that overrides your phone notification sound settings. This way, you won’t think it’s just another text or email when your phone chimes a notification. Then there is an audio recording played of the threat details as part of the notification. Beyond just NWS weather alerts, it will also alert you to lightning strikes nearby. You can then easily share the alert with family, friends or your turf team in the area. There are other great apps that work in similar fashion I’m sure. Find one that fits your situation and learn how to use it effectively. They can be great tools!
Also, follow your local NWS office and maybe local TV weather on social media, they put out timely info all the time using these platforms.
Turf Tips 101 My Severe Weather Tips for the Sports Field Manager
Wherever you have staff working outdoors, make sure they understand the basics. Reinforce severe weather awareness in your daily meetings and review the day’s threats (if any). With mobile phones and radios, you should be able to set up a communication system to alert each other when you see threats approaching. This can be especially important to field managers working in a stadium or ballpark where your sightlines to potential storms may be obscured.
Beyond the traditional severe weather threats like tornadoes, hail, lightning etc., I want to touch on a few severe weather threats that I believe are under managed in the world of outdoor work.
Wind pretty much ruins everything for the sports field manager except maybe rolling and mowing. Deploy and strike of field covers can be a particularly tough challenge in windy conditions. I wrote a blog about this you can read here. Beyond tarps, nearly every treatment or application made on your fields is affected by straight-line or gusting winds and may reduce the effectiveness of the treatment. Wind can present hazards to the turf team whenever they are handling objects that can fly in the wind, things like rigid paint stencils come to memory.
Most of the non-sporting events on your fields are done under some kind of severe weather plan, in my experiences. But the risks may come in during the set-up and strike of these events if you don’t have severe weather policies to cover these times. I believe it is a good idea to expand your severe weather plans to include before and after any events to cover the working event staff.
Seeing potential winds in a forecast will also compel the field manager to secure any game field elements like goals, foul poles or any other items that could be affected in strong winds. Do you have your soil bins securely covered?
We don’t really think of very hot and humid weather as severe weather, but we should. Environmental Heat Illness (EHI) is preventable and the entire turf team should be well trained on this threat as well. The “tough it out” attitude cannot be tolerated when it comes to working in hot weather. The Kori Stinger Institute is a great resource to learn more.
Air quality is becoming increasingly important to monitor, I believe. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as most governmental agencies worldwide, report current and forecasted Air Quality indexes that focus on the human health effects of 5 major pollutants regulated by The Clean Air Act. Certain activities for certain people may be affected by AQI and the EPA may recommend certain physical activities be curtailed or cancelled based on AQI. These activities may include the sometimes strenuous physical work in sports field management. Ozone levels in urban areas are generally neglected by most, in my experiences. In the western US and Canada, we also seem to deal with more and more wildfire smoke in the summer months.
The EPA has a website, AirNow, dedicated to air quality where you can find current and forecasted air quality conditions for your particular area. They also have a good page to help understand the basics of Air Quality Indexing.
A Few More Tips
Take a severe weather spotter class from the NWS. Even if your area has plenty of reporting spotters, the training is a good way to educate yourself and your staff. Learn how to visually evaluate storm clouds and assess their severe potential and much more. The NWS offers free local classes and you can also do a short, free online course and webinar.
Think about where you and staff park your cars. One advantage to dialing in your severe weather threats first thing every morning is that you and your staff may have the opportunity to park your cars in a less damaged-prone area.
Resources of the Month
It’s so important to know the difference between a severe weather watch and a warning. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a good, short video explain the differences here.
An interesting video looking at the Storm Prediction Center operations in Norman, OK.
“If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron.” Lee Trevino