Football rolls into its late fall/winter season; baseball and soccer are in playoffs. Sports field managers everywhere turn their thoughts to being even more prepared for changes in the weather. In much of the country you’ll want to be ready for snow by now. One thing unique about football is what I call “Rain or snow, it’ll go.” Airports may close, roads may close, but football is played. Every other outdoor sporting event would cancel, even alpine ski events cancel or postpone for significant snowfall. But, kickoff, with very few extreme exceptions, will go off as scheduled. As a football fan, I love this, but it can be a huge challenge for the turf team. Old Man Winter creeps up on us, and as sports field managers we begin living our lives forecast to forecast, even more so than the rest of the year.
Trivia time: Name the top 10 NFL cities in terms of annual average snowfall (answer is at the end).
My dear aunt Harriet once told me, “Whether it’s cold or whether it’s hot, the weather is the weather, whether or not.” There is sound wisdom behind this axiom, but as a prepared sports field manager, you’ll still want to try to tease details out of forecasters and generate scenarios with some degree of confidence. I think a basic meteorology course is essential in any turf management (or related) curriculum. Weather and climate affect almost every aspect of our work. How can you cement your field prep plans any further than your confidence in the forecast?
Most people don’t work and play outside, so they really don’t have to watch the weather and forecasts. Not sports field managers. So, when I am asked a question like, “Hey, what are you doing the weekend of November 30?” I simply reply, “I don’t know, what’s the weather going to be like that day and that week?” A bit sarcastic maybe, but true. Here in Denver, with our turf team, we have a little tradition. As we leave for the day, and make sure everyone knows tomorrow’s start time, someone will ask, “8 o’clock tomorrow?” And I’ll say, “Unless it snows.” Ask me in late July in our nation’s hottest summer on record, and I’ll answer the same. It’s just my way of acknowledging that almost all our plans depend on the weather, and I need to be prepared for anything.
Today’s sports field manager is fortunate to have easy, inexpensive or free access to all sorts of weather forecasting services. We have had National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts for years, but compared to 28 years ago when I first started as an SFM, they put out so much more info and update much more frequently, they make their predictions available in many more ways with greater confidence in accuracy. Private weather forecasting services have also been around for a long time, but many more are available now, offering tools and services not available from the NWS.
Every sports field manager has their preferred sources; mine is anything I can get my hands on. NWS or private, I like a lot of sources. However, probably like you, I have little use for local TV forecasts. They spend five minutes on what happened today and what’s happening right now. I know this already, I was out there all day! Then one minute on what I need, the future prediction. Don’t get me wrong, some are very good and worth the time spent if you happen to be near a TV at the right time. Go to their website, and often the updated forecasts are too old, because they want you to watch.
Nowadays, forecasts are almost always generated through educated analysis of computer weather models. Weather data collected at sites all over the world are plugged into these models and they generate predictions based on this and other data. The meteorologist will base his forecast on his reading of these model results, refined by his experiences with the various models.
I don’t claim to understand it, but I do look for as many qualified analyses as I can find. My home pages for both my home and work computers are the NWS weather page. I get great use of reading the “Forecast Discussion” that is part of most regional NWS webpages. This is where the forecasters discuss the results of the latest model runs, and the reasoning behind their forecasts. Here is where you can find out to what degree there is consistency amongst the various models, and if there are run-to-run consistencies. You find out how much certainty the experts have in the latest forecast packages.
The discussion generally comes out twice per day, early morning and late afternoon. It takes a little practice to understand what they are saying, but it is a better way to tease out details and get a much better understanding of the weather scenarios you are facing than “a 20 percent chance of showers today.” And, one thing I like about the NWS is that they will have a fully updated model analysis out by about 4:30 a.m. When you get up with the chickens (as an ex-girlfriend used to call it), it’s nice to have it waiting for you, and only a few private and media services update this early.
However you get your professional forecasts, be sure they are not just verbatim reposts of the NWS. Find forecasts generated by educated professionals who will give you their independent analysis of the models.
In the end, aunt Harriet is right. You update yourself without overanalysis, adjust the plans accordingly and get on with it. Prepare the field and get it through the game, the best you possibly can. Weather or not …
Ross Kurcab, who holds a bachelor’s in landscape horticulture/turfgrass management from Colorado State University, has 26 years of turf management experience and is the first Certified Sports Field Manager). You may reach him at email@example.com.