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Athletic events have lightning protocol

Sure, it’s New Mexico.

The average rainfall is only about 15 inches, which is 24 inches less than the national average according to WeatherDB.

But anyone who has ever lived here for more than a few weeks knows that the weather can certainly get nasty.

And if you’re at an outdoor sporting event during a horrific storm, what’s the best policy? More importantly, what’s the policy of the facility you’re attending?

And it helps if everyone — especially the workers — knows those policies.

During the Nevada at University of New Mexico football game on Nov. 5, a lightning storm hit and some fans took shelter in restrooms. But they were soon told to get out of the restrooms and go to their vehicles.

“There was a miscommunication with an usher, and he started to move people out of the bathrooms,” Mike Haggerty, UNM assistant athletic director of events, told the Journal. “One of the supervisors saw that and said, ‘No, that’s not what we want.’

The Journal received two emails from patrons who complained they were in the bathrooms, but forced  into the storm.

“When the rain started we sought shelter in the restroom,” one wrote. “… Staff members told us we were ordered to clear the stadium. We therefore, had to leave in the middle of the downpour, subject to the lightning strikes that they were so worried about.”

Haggerty said he apologized for that, and “I will make sure all employees have better training on the issue.”

November isn’t typically problematic in the state when it comes to lightning storms.

That weekend, however, was an exception.

The annual Las Cruces vs. Mayfield high school football game at Aggie Memorial Stadium was also pounded by rain and lightning. The game started the night of Nov. 4, but in the second quarter was delayed because of lightning and the stands were cleared. Shortly after the fans returned and the game resumed, there was an injury on the field and the coaches agreed to end the game in a scoreless tie, since it did not make a difference in the District 6A standings. However, because a New Mexico Activity Association rule doesn’t allow teams to participate in the postseason without playing every district opponent, the game was completed on Nov. 5 at Las Cruces’ Field of Dreams.

Both teams made the playoffs, and are playing this week.

Various policies

n The Nevada-UNM game was  the night of Nov. 5. No rain fell in the first two quarters. But during halftime, a storm warning was announced because there was lightning nearby and that the second half would be delayed. Before the second half started, another announcement was made to evacuate the stadium “and seek shelter in their vehicles and listen to 770 AM for updates” because a lightning storm was approaching.

As the stadium was being cleared, a deluge ensued and fans scattered.

“When we evacuate, we tell fans to take shelter,” Haggerty said. “They have the option to go to their vehicle or go to rest rooms. They just can’t be outside in the elements in the stadium.

“Our policy, because we don’t have any covered areas, is the fans must take shelter,” Haggerty said. “If they are in the Zia Club or End Zone Club, which are indoors, they don’t have to evacuate.”

n The National Federation of State High School Associations requires all participants and spectators to be evacuated from a facility if lightning is seen or thunder is heard. They are not allowed back into a facility until 30 minutes after the last lightning strike. Anytime a new bolt of lightning appears, that starts the clock on another 30 minutes.

“We had plenty of lightning delays two years ago,” said Dusty Young, the associate athletic director of the New Mexico Activities Association. “Most people are very understanding of the situation when we have to evacuate, and obviously our first priority is the well being of the student-athletes and spectators.”

Young said that there is a definite need to evacuate facilities, because “There are not a whole lot of high school events that take place with sheltered areas. So it’s best for them to go to their vehicles.”

n The Albuquerque Isotopes baseball stadium does have a covered concourse, and general manager John Traub said the stadium doesn’t get evacuated during lightning delays.

“We advise (fans) to take shelter,” Traub texted to the Journal. “Most people gather under the protected area along the concourse.”

Traub said it is the responsibility of the umpires’ discretion when to pull teams off the field for lightning delays.