Columbia, league outline safety plans for severe weather

Friday, June 19, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — As the first round of baseball and softball games drew to a close Wednesday evening at Cosmo Park, storm clouds loomed overhead. A severe weather warning prompted the cancellation of all youth and adult baseball and softball games at the Lewis P. Antimi Sports Complex.

When lightning or other severe weather threatens a game, the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, as well as the Diamond Council, has procedures to help keep fans and players safe.

Carol Riney, recreation supervisor for the city parks department, said a crew chief or lead umpire at each facility monitors the weather. Each crew chief has a device that can detect the presence of lightning in the vicinity, she said.

Either the lightning detector or a visual confirmation by the crew chief can indicate the presence of lightning. When this happens the crew chief will postpone or cancel games on one or all of the fields at the location, Riney said.

“If you’re detecting the lightning and don’t even see it, we can create a delay, like a 30-minute delay,” Riney said. If a storm does not appear in this time, the game can resume.

Debbie Jameson, executive director for Diamond Council, a youth baseball and softball program that plays on city baseball fields, said her league often relies on umpires provided by the Parks and Recreation Department to determine when games need to be canceled because of weather.

“We just let the city pretty much handle it,” Jameson said.

Not all of Diamond Council’s games, especially those for younger players, have umpires, Jameson said. For these gamesthe decision to cancel is left to the coaches, she said. The coaches are instructed on how to consider inclement weather during coaches’ clinics held by the council at the beginning of each season, she said.

Thunderstorms aren't the only conditions that can interrupt a game.

“Lightning and rain, even severe heat or cold,” can cause a game to be canceled, Jameson said. In all situations coaches are told to err on the side of caution.

Before a game is canceled, Parks and Recreation often waits to see if the weather will pass, Riney said. Even moderate rain can make the dirt fields unplayable.

Jameson said a park ranger often will patrol the parking lots and instruct people to leave after games have been canceled because of severe weather.

Diamond Council does not generally reschedule games canceled for weather, and few games that are postponed while under way are restarted, Jameson said. Given the more than 200 people who can be at the eight fields that make up the Antimi sports complex, waiting out the storm can be a problem.

“Where do you send the people?" Jameson said. "To their cars?”

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