Two things I have an ongoing interest in are meteorology and regulation. In the wake of the Indiana State Fair stage collapse, there have been interesting developments on both fronts.
* Immediately after the tragedy, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels called the gust of wind that took down the stage a "fluke event." The Fair spokesman called it "an act of God." Tim Ballisty, who has the wonderful title of "editorial meteorologist" with The Weather Channel, lets Daniels have it in a fiery editorial:
Let’s stop bucketing meteorology and weather in general into some magical mystery science that can’t be explained. When a tragic accident due to existing extreme weather conditions occurs, there is a notion to just throw your hands up in the air and say, "well, nothing could have been done to avoid this" or "nobody could have seen this coming" or "it was just a damn fluke". In many instances, that just simply is not the case and it wasn’t the case in the tragedy at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Powerful, damaging winds were a known threat several days before and during the minutes leading up to the stage collapse.
Charlotte meteorologist Brad Panovich has a detailed timeline, in which you can see the gust front heading towards the fairgrounds. Meteorologist Mike Smith, author of Warnings, actually found a photograph from the State Fair showing the gust front in the distance.
* The Indianapolis Star found out something surprising, to me at least:
If you’re wondering which Indiana agency regulates the massive stage rigging at the State Fairgrounds, the answer is apparently none of them.
If you’re wondering how often the structures are inspected by the government, the answer is apparently never.
But even in the article there’s confusion over the expectations of what kind of weather and winds a temporary stage rig should be able to handle. William Hooke of the American Meteorological Society suggests that at a certain point designing for high winds is infeasible, and the threshold for emergency response should be adjusted accordingly.
If you want to see the collapse of the stage for yourself, this is the clearest video I’ve seen, but it’s disturbing.