Tuesday August 7, 2012

LENOX -- Despite unusually benevolent summer weather, Tanglewood has taken another major step toward ensuring patron safety from the occasionally violent electrical storms that normally frequent the Berkshires.

The Boston Symphony is backing up its high-tech lightning-detection equipment, now in its third summer of operation, with the expertise of a well-known area weather specialist.

Paul Caiano, WNYT News Channel 13 and WAMC Northeast Public Radio meteorologist, is now a consultant, assisting Tanglewood facilities manager Bobby Lahart and other departments on implementing action plans that can shelter as many as 12,000 lawn patrons -- full capacity -- from the elements in a dozen designated storm shelters, notably the Koussevitzky Music Shed and Ozawa Hall.

After jokingly crediting this summer's meteorological "good fortune" to Caiano's involvement, Lahart explained that "Paul adds another layer of sophistication and professional insight beyond what the data shows us."

Sunday was a perfect example because severe weather was threatening the Berkshires. But the county was spared any of the more intense thunderstorms that moved from west to east, but avoided the county.

Caiano was in frequent contact, monitoring the path of the storms. A moderate, brief thundershower led Lahart and his colleagues to ask lawn patrons at Sunday night's Ozawa Hall Chris Botti concert to move inside the rear portion of the theater for their safety.

Caiano, in a telephone interview from the WNYT studios in Albany, N.


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Y., said he "ramps up" his consultations with Lahart depending on the potential for severe weather.

He acknowledged that the lack of storminess and beneficial rainfall over the Berkshires this summer is "strange" but can be attributed to the nature of "hit or miss" summer weather patterns. "Sometimes the storms spread out evenly, other times one area or another is favored," he said.

"I love to forecast good weather," Caiano added, but "hopefully we can get some light to moderate rainstorms" to ease the moderate drought conditions in the Berkshires.

"I was expecting more opportunities for predicting severe weather," he said, but the stretch of mostly calm, dry, though hot conditions this season have their benefits. "It's great for Tanglewood."

Lahart stressed that the decision to activate severe-storm procedures is complex, involving the timing of the storm and the location of a scheduled concert.

"Everything is discussed and evaluated, and we take measures necessary to ensure public safety while balancing other objectives, such as starting the concert as close to its scheduled time as possible," he said.

Earlier this summer, Lahart offered a tour of his "weather command center" and its pair of sophisticated lightning detection and prediction systems.

One computerized display, called Vaisala, is used by major airports, Lahart said.

"It's a detection system to show where lightning is actually striking within 125 miles of Tanglewood," he said.

"The other system, Thor-Guard, is more local," said Lahart. "It's a precise lightning-prediction system used by major golf courses around the country and it covers a 15-mile area around Tanglewood."

Both systems help the BSO determine steps needed to maintain the safety of the public and the staff, Lahart added.

Lahart credited his boss, the BSO director of facilities, Mark Cataudella, for making it possible to add the equipment.

"His orientation is very much like mine and throughout the organization: That public safety is the overriding concern," said Lahart.

Although the technology has only been needed sparingly this summer, Lahart noted that in the 2010 and 2011 seasons, "it came in handy at least once every week, and it has always been accurate, which is unusual when you're predicting weather patterns. The data has been very valuable and has proven its worth on every occasion."

Occasionally, gate-openings were delayed by threatening weather in 2010 and 2011, but Sunday night's decision to shelter lawn patrons in Ozawa Hall is the only instance, so far, that the severe-weather precautions have been activated this season.

Caiano's hazardous-weather monitoring is aided by remote access to an on-site "sky camera" that displays local conditions in real time. His early morning outlook is followed by updates and a live conversation two hours before gates open on any given day, with follow-ups as needed.

His collaboration with Tanglewood is independent of his employment at WNYT and his affiliation with WAMC.

The severe-weather action plan was implemented following an incident on July 27, 2008, when a concertgoer was injured by a lightning strike during an intense storm just before the Sunday afternoon concert.

The patron, Sang Jough of Westwood, N.J., made a full recovery and appeared in May 2009 at an event to thank the 11 EMTs who came to his aid, including Berkshire County Sheriff's deputy Major Thomas Grady, who administered CPR and saved his life.