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They Almost Reined In This Parade

Tournament of Roses officials seriously considered canceling this year's event because of a chance of lightning accompanying the rain.

January 17, 2006|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Tournament of Roses officials seriously considered canceling this year's parade because of stormy weather with a chance of lightning, organizers revealed Monday as they embarked on a new campaign aimed at making the event safer during inclement weather.

This year marked the first time in 51 years that it rained on the parade, but that was enough to prompt officials to think about better protecting Rose Parade participants and spectators.

Organizers had known for days that a downpour was likely. But three days before the event, officials received a weather forecast showing a chance of lightning as well.

Without a specific safety policy on electrical storms in place, parade officials scrambled to come up with a plan, said Mitch Dorger, chief executive officer of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Assn.

They decided they would cancel the parade if lightning advanced within a six-mile radius of the Pasadena parade route. As a precaution, parade workers at the last minute grounded more than 100 metal grandstands along the way. (Grounding could protect people from being electrocuted if lightning struck the bleachers.)

The heavens ended up delivering a deluge but no lightning. So the parade went on.

Dorger said he expects the organization to issue more formal storm-related safety policies for next year's event.

"We will be taking a hard look at [weather conditions] and whether we need to specify specific standards," he said. The parade's policy committee, he added, will probably decide on the standards next month, in time for float builders to incorporate any necessary changes into their designs.

The rules will probably examine ways to protect against lightning and to deal with how floats respond to heavy winds.

Parade officials said they tried their best to prepare for this year's inclement weather. They issued advisories to participants and asked them to take precautions. For example, all of the parade's horses were re-shod with special anti-slip shoes.

Officials determined that the floats -- built to withstand 45-mph winds when fully extended and 60-mph gales when retracted to their maximum height of 16 feet, 4 inches -- would be strong enough for the predicted storm.

"We are very safety-conscious, but we have not been confronted with rains for 50 years," Dorger said. The 1955 rain -- a 0.21-inch drizzle -- was hardly comparable, he added. "This time, I had more than a quarter-inch of rain just in my shoes."

To develop a last-minute lightning plan, parade and Pasadena public safety officials looked to others for guidance.

They learned that in the Midwest -- where electrical storms are more common than the usually sunny and dry Southland -- grounding grandstands was "standard operating procedure," said Mike Downs, chief of the Pasadena Fire Department.

They also were concerned about what lightning could do to people carrying flagpoles and band members cradling metallic instruments. Jumpy horses also might not fare well under sudden flashes from the sky.

Officials learned that the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. cancels outdoor events if lightning comes within six miles.

"We thought if the NCAA adopted that, that was something we could also go by," Downs said.

"As it turned out, lightning never materialized."

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