Dallas Cowboys and Event Venue Unpreparedness

As my three or four loyal BLOG readers know, I’m a proud native of the city of Dallas, lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan(atic), a degreed meteorologist and professional severe storms specialist, and have done numerous presentations and one paper on the problem of severe storms and large-event venues. As such, I’ve already started fielding questions in person and via e-mail about the collapse of the covering at the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility yesterday (You-Tube video and WFAA footage).

The entire Metroplex, the Valley Ranch addition being smack in the middle geographically, was under not only a tornado watch, but a severe thunderstorm warning. Rookie mini-camp was underway. Laden with heavy rain, pressed by around 70 mph winds, the steel beam-supported fabric structure (essentially a “permanently” supported circus tent) imploded on top of an active practice session, injuring 12 at last count. Light fixtures and live wires fell into wet or soon-wet ground too. As head coach Wade Phillips said afterward, “”We’re lucky no one got electrocuted with all the water in the building.”

This could have been very bad, with crushing injuries, more permanent paralyses, electrical injury and perhaps deaths. It wasn’t, thank God.

According to Matt Mosley of ESPN, a Cowboys scout is undergoing spinal surgery. [EDIT: This turned out to be a tragic case of permanent paralysis below the waist, afflicting scout Rich Behm.] New special teams coach Joe DeCamillis seems to have the worst of it among coaches or players with broken vertebrae in his back; but he will live and is not paralyzed. One person suffered an open leg fracture. A few players got cut, bruised and bloodied some — nothing much worse than from an especially intense game. Dallas Morning News reporter and Cowboys BLOGger Todd Archer was pinned under some heavy stuff, but two of the rookies (DB DeAngelo Smith and LB Brandon Williams) managed to lift the beam just enough for him to wriggle free (first-hand account).

I don’t have a lot of other answers, except that it was a severe downburst that hit the facility, as determined by Gary Woodall, a friend, scientific colleague of mine and skilled damage surveyor who works at the the NWS Ft. Worth office.

Look, people: it’s not like severe weather is rare in North Texas. In fact, the Metroplex gets hit with severe storms every single year, usually multiple times, and has suffered some of the most economically devastating thunderstorms in American history. Back on 2 August 1985, another downburst — just a few miles away at DFW Airport — took down Delta flight 191, killing 135 people. This was not a freak event, an “Act of God” or even an exceptionally severe storm. Nothing else around the facility was even damaged! It was standard-order severe weather with which Dallas area natives, like me, are quite familiarized from earliest childhood.

In light of those basics, I’ve got questions of my own. Don’t ask me these, because I don’t know.

  1. With a watch and a warning both in effect, why in the hell were all those people still in there?
  2. Could the Cowboys use a full-time staff meteorologist?
  3. What is the comprehensive severe weather plan for the new stadium in Arlington?
  4. A search of the Cowboys and stadium websites reveals no severe weather safety guide for the new stadium…why not? Isn’t public weather safety for public consumption?

I wonder if Jerry Jones is going to hold the construction company liable in this collapse of the glorified circus tent. He’s got the shekels to do it. North Texas weather is the test of any construction’s integrity; and the atmosphere’s answer key revealed the structure to be a flimsy POS failure.

Of course, Jerry also has the shekels to build a much sturdier edifice for indoor practices!

As for the rookies, needless to say, whatever else happens or fails to happen with their NFL careers, they’ll have this near-deadly tie to bind them. They’re heroes today too; because they scrambled all over the scene using their athletic ability and strength to help those trapped and injured. Even though they just joined the club, they already make one great team in one way.


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