In planning any outdoor event, you should anticipate bad weather and develop safety measures relative to the dangers involved.
Specific Weather Conditions & Suggestions
Below are some weather conditions that event organizers should consider, along with some suggestions for plans and contingencies. University of Illinois authorities reserve the right to cancel any event, and specific facility owners may have procedures and policies that supersede those of event organizers.
A tornado watch means that atmospheric conditions are such that a tornado could develop. Weather conditions can be relatively mild during a watch. Monitor the potential storm and advise attendees of the possibility of a tornado. Identify potential indoor shelters. If there are no nearby shelters, cancellation of the event may be warranted.
A tornado warning means that a tornado has been spotted on the ground. A nearby tornado will be cause for a siren to sound. A tornado warning warrants immediate cancellation of the event. Immediately seek indoor shelter, preferably with a basement.
If lightning is detected (meaning lightning has been seen or thunder has been heard), seek shelter in a nearby building. Outdoor activity can resume 30 minutes after the last lightning detection.
Consider dangers associated with falling or flying objects. Monitor the stability of tents and other structures if applicable. Events on water can pose additional safety concerns in high wind.
Snow or Ice
Consider the possibility of slipping hazards during the event, as well as the dangers of traveling to and from the event for participants, spectators, and Emergency Responders when snow and ice are present. Consult local authorities on road conditions when deciding whether to hold the event.
Depending on the activity, heavy rain can turn a surface unsafe. Also depending on the activity, a rain-soaked surface can be damaged and financial liability incurred. Events that involve electricity (i.e., outdoor concerts) pose additional safety considerations.
Heat emergencies such as heat exhaustion and the more serious heat stroke can easily happen in outdoor events and are mitigated by many factors such as activity, presence or absence of shelter, presence or absence of hydration, and age of participants (youths and older individuals are more easily affected by high temperatures). Consider involving trained First Aid responders in events where high temperatures are possible and where strenuous activity is involved. High temperatures can be cause for event cancellation in some cases.
Cold emergencies such as mild to severe hypothermia can occur in conditions that range from extreme cold (below freezing temperatures) to merely cool temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Mitigating factors are wind or water, clothing, activity level, and age level of participants. Rapidly changing factors such as temperature, wind, and activity levels make preparation for cold difficult, so consider involving trained First Aid responders in events where low temperatures are possible.
While not strictly a weather condition, low light may require certain safety accommodations for some activities (e.g., sporting events). Consider the availability of lighting or end the event when low light makes the event unsafe.
- Determine how you will monitor developing weather conditions.
- Determine how you will communicate decisions to your participants and spectators.
- Pre-determine a date or time when you may make weather-related decisions.
- Identify an alternative inside location if complete cancellation is not in the plan (make sure to obtain permission to use the alternative location).
Minimum Safety Plans for All Outdoor Events
Note that you may be asked to provide your plan to the facility scheduler.
- Identify who makes the decision to suspend or cancel and how to specifically monitor the weather.
- Outline how cancellation notification is made during the event (create a communication plan). Make this information available prior to the event if possible.
- Identify the nearest safe shelter in the event of lightning or tornado. Verify that the building will be accessible for the duration of the event and that it will accommodate the number of participants in your event. In the event of lightning, the safe shelter should be a substantial building, fully enclosed with wiring and plumbing, or an enclosed vehicle. In the event of a tornado, the safe shelter should be a building with a basement; if no basement is available, it should include a small, sturdy interior room.
Tips From the National Weather Service
- “No place outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area!”
- “When thunder roars, go indoors!”
- “Half an hour since thunder roars, now it’s safe to go outdoors!"