Friday, June 08, 2012

Absegami High And Its Failure To React

Outdoor graduations at high schools are about as traditional as apple pie, baseball, the "senior slide" in 12th grade, and fireworks on the 4th of July. Of course, outdoor graduations when thunderstorms are in the area are also magnets for the possibility of lightning strikes given a couple thousand people are at the larger high schools, sometimes more, and sitting on metal bleachers.

A number of high schools have their graduation ceremonies on Thursday evening -- with Friday as the listed rain date.  My local high school is one of them...and wisely called off their graduation one day knowing that the chance of thunderstorms locally was sufficient and that some of the storms were containing lightning.

Down the Shore, Absegami High School didn't choose to postpone their graduation and kicked it off at 6 PM despite thunderstorms being in the area and having a built in and advertised rain date.

During the course of the ceremony, the storm moved in on the high school and this wall cloud developed nearby.  While it wasn't an actual tornado nor was it a funnel cloud, it signified a rather strong thunderstorm with a pretty nasty updraft...bringing the potential of hail to anyone in its path.  Despite the ominous clouds and off and on flashes of lightning nearby, the ceremony continued along.

Rain, thunder, and lightning continued as the ceremony pushed along to its conclusion.   To top it off, as the ceremony ended spectators had to run for cover as pea to marble sized hail fell on the high school.   Two people suffered injuries sufficient enough to warrant transport to local hospitals.

This could have been nipped in the bud by postponing the ceremony before it even began.  Radar did detect thunderstorms in the area at 5:30 PM, generally to the north of Absegami High School (which is located just northeast of AC's Airport...see where temperature says "70" on the map to the south of that line of storms) but not very far to the north.  While thunderstorms were not over the immediate area, they were close enough to be a concern given the lightning seen off to the north and northeast.

High school sports are typically delayed at the first hint of lightning and thunder in the area -- yet while lightning flashed to the north during the beginning stages of the ceremony officials chose to continue along with it, even as the storm intensified as it approached the high school.

One might argue that having 2000 people in the process of gathering, then postponing or canceling the graduation on less than 30 minutes notice, would be an inconvenience.  If lightning had ultimately struck the stands or struck the stadium, there would have been a greater inconvenience for those struck.  This ceremony shouldn't have taken place last night.

Still shot of video taken at Absegami High School.  Video by Matt Blanchard.

At some point, common sense and safety should have taken over instead of the rush to complete a ceremony despite lightning flashing nearby.  That's on Absegami High School and the school district didn't even need a radar to know something was up.  Hopefully, we don't see any tragedies happen at high school graduations or sporting events because of a failure of common sense.