What goes into forecasting for a major sporting event?
By Sonya Stevenssstevens@abcnews4.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) -- Have you ever thought about what it would be like to forecast the weather for a big sporting event?
That's exactly what Brad Nelson does with Schneider Electric. He has been with the company for eight years, but for the last five years has been an on-site meteorologist for the Sports & Rec Team.
"Our Turf/Sports weather team produces forecasts and provides consultation for the PGA Tour, Champions Tour, Web.com Tour, LPGA, The Masters, PGA of America events, the ATP tennis tour, Major League Baseball, several MLB and NFL teams, the NCAA, many college universities, many high schools, and several ski resorts," said Nelson.
And forecasting for these major sporting events is no small task.
"They are such high profile (events) that we need to have two meteorologists there to produce the forecasts and answer questions," said Nelson. "In addition, there is that added pressure of keeping all of the players and thousands of spectators safe from dangerous weather and lightning."
The two meteorologists produce forecasts three to five times a day. They are also responsible for keeping the officials and event staff up to speed on the weather at all times.
"When it comes to lightning and hazardous weather, there is a lot of pressure to give the officials the correct information so that they can clear the course with enough time to spare and get everyone to safety, but also to only clear the course and delay when it is necessary," said Nelson.
And just like any other meteorologist, they want to be as accurate as possible.
"Sometimes getting scrutinized for the decisions that are made, and even for the weather itself," said Nelson. "We just have to keep telling ourselves and others that we do not control the weather, we are just the messengers!"
It's especially important for them to be messengers when there is severe weather.
"We typically alert the proper authorities when any inclement weather is within an hour of reaching the site," said Nelson. "However, in the case of extreme severe weather (high winds, frequent lightning, tornadoes, large hail) we will give them even further advance notice."
The general rule of thumb with the company is to warn of lightning 25 miles away, and then start clearing the course when the strikes are about eight to ten miles away.
"This may be different depending on how fast the storm is moving, if it is moving away or is going to give us a direct hit, how many people we have on the golf course, how much lightning density there is, how close we are to finishing, and many other things," said Nelson.
But Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate and occasionally Nelson and his co-workers are caught off guard.
Once at a golf tournament in San Jacinto, Calif., winds went from calm to high within five minutes. A thunderstorm that blew up in a nearby mountain range produced an outflow boundary with sustained 40-50 mph winds for two hours straight.
"We could not play due to the balls blowing off the greens and due to tree limbs falling down all over the course," said Nelson. "There was even a kid's bouncy castle that was being blown down the fairway while golfers were still playing! One of the Rules officials drove his cart after the castle, jumped on it, and rode it as it was being blown across the golf course before eventually hitting a tree. He was OK, but it was quite the sight."
So far, Nelson has worked three Masters Tournaments, three PGA Championships, one Junior PGA Championship, one Ryder Cup and multiple PGA Tour and Web.com Tour events.
The job definitely keeps him on his toes, but for this meteorologist and sports fan, it's the perfect fit.