Weather Channel meteorologist: Storm was no fluke
INDIANAPOLIS - A meteorologist with the Weather Channel believes Indiana State Fair officials needed to do more than make hourly phone calls to the National Weather Service when severe storms were moving through the area Saturday night.
Tim Ballisty said the storm had a history of damaging winds.
Hours after the State Fair tragedy, Gov. Mitch Daniels talked about the wind gust that brought down the roof of the stage, killing five people and injuring more than 40. He called it a "freak accident," something that fair spokesman Andy Klotz repeated when he called it a "freakish act of God."
But the editorial meteorologist at weather.com does not believe that's an accurate description of what happened.
"This is not a freakish accident and it wasn't a fluke. The weather situation was well known," said Ballisty.
Ballisty has seen the radar and believes the warning signs were there.
"There was an obvious line of thunderstorms that had a history of winds, high winds, damaging winds, destructive winds, producing hail, producing frequent lightning and producing torrential downpours. That history was there," he said.
State Fair officials called the National Weather Service once an hour to get updates from radar The first call was at 1:00 pm and the last one was at 8:00 pm. The National Weather Service does not provide advice on whether to evacuate or not.
When fair officials made their last phone call to NWS at 8:00 pm, they were told the storms looked like they were weakening (collapsing with cold air hitting the ground) with a history of small hail and winds 40mph based on reports from storms between Lafayette, Lebanon, Brownsburg.
But the National Weather Service says the storms intensified by 8:30pm and triggered a severe thunderstorm warning at 8:39pm after radar indicated large hail (1") and winds exceeding 60mph.
Eyewitness News asked Ballisty if once per hour was enough monitoring.
"That is not enough monitoring considering the given atmospheric situation at that time," he said. "Because the atmosphere was so ripe, there could have easily been pop-up thunderstorms right on top of the fairgrounds."
Ballisty believes fair officials should have evacuated as soon as the severe thunderstorm warning was issued. He also has this action step for people who go to outdoor concerts.
"As a concert-goer, do not rely on the officials on the authorities at the event. Don't always rely on them on giving you the best piece of advice. You need to take matters into your own hands. Observe the sky. Observe what's going on. Is it getting dark? Do you see flashes of lightning? Take it upon yourself. Use your common sense to know, now is my time to seek shelter," he said.
No NWS meteorologists were at the fair in any official capacity. A few were there watching the concert.