Fatal tent collapses on two consecutive days.

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Two people were killed and many injured today in a tent collapse at a fair during a severe thunderstorm in Lancaster, NH.


This comes one day after one person was killed and around 20 injured in a tent collapse at a festival in Wood Dale, IL.


In both cases, severe thunderstorm warnings were issued around 15 minutes before the collapse, but no action was taken to evacuate people to safer locations. In the Wood Dale, IL case, the story linked above notes that there was an evacuation plan but it was not activated. Both of these incidents are strikingly similar to a fatal tent collapse in St. Louis on April 28, 2012. These seems to be cases where there was not learning from the past - tents are not safe in severe thunderstorms. How many people have to die before this lesson is learned? Dealing with this does not require having a meteorologist on site at every fair, festival, or business where a tent is used or people are outdoors. But it does require having an evacuation plan, having someone monitoring for severe weather warnings, and putting the plan into effect when a warning is issued. It CAN be done - the Lollapalooza music festival with over 40,000 people was evacuated for the same storm that hit Wood Dale - something a lot more complex than evacuating a few hundred people. But to do this, whether the venue is large or small, does require a plan and someone with the authority to activate it.
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Reactions: Robert Forry
Jan 14, 2011
St. Louis
This is one of the rare cases in which a severe thunderstorm can actually pose a real threat to life and limb, yet the threat is still contingent on a very vulnerable man-made structure being involved. It's interesting given the number of severe storms in the US coinciding with the peak time for outdoor festivals that we don't see more of this type of thing.
When we (PUB) used to have a booth at the State Fair, we would be in almost constant contact with security/events etc; anytime the weather was even remotely threatening they would take action, shut down rides, get people in secure structures etc...so at least some events are proactive in this regard. I expect we will be in close communication with them this year as well, despite not being present at the event.
Sep 7, 2013
Strasburg, CO
The general public doesn't understand the weather and its capabilities. So being "indoors" gives them a sense of security, even if that indoors is made of canvas and plastic.

Jeff Duda

Resident meteorological expert
Staff member
Oct 7, 2008
Broomfield, CO
Seems like incidents like this are entirely the result of 1) failure of the event coordinators to be aware of the weather and/or do anything to protect people in the event of threatening weather and 2) of attendees to take responsibility for their own safety. I don't think incidents like this are indicative of any sort of systematic problem that "needs to be dealt with", just local idiots who fail to use common sense, don't pay attention to external factors, and end up having someone pay the price for it.
When it happens over and over again, it seems to me that it is a systematic problem. And it could in most cases be prevented by addressing Jeff's #1 in his post above. #2 would be great, but it is not going to happen because most people just don't pay much attention to the weather and because, in any one individual's experience, such dangerous weather events are rare. Hence, what social scientists call "normality bias" is prevalent and people figure nothing is going to happen, because, in their experience, it usually doesn't. This is why such events need to have evacuation plans, have someone knowledgeable in charge of monitoring the weather, and put the evacuation plan into effect if the situation calls for it. At a minimum, outdoor events or events in tents should be evacuated to a sturdy building if a severe thunderstorm warning or a tornado warning is issued.
Oct 25, 2004
Tucson, Arizona
I would think that insurance companies that underwrite these type of events would insist on a viable plan being in place prior to a policy being issued.