Quarterback not the main centre of attention this year
Super Bowl already putting big pressure on weatherman hired by NFL
Workers attempt to clear a snow-covered MetLife Stadium in New Jersey last week. Photograph: New York Times
There comes a moment in so many memorable games when a team will turn its anxious gaze to one player and ask a simple question: You got this covered? In the National Football League, it is likely to be the kicker, quarterback or running back. On Sunday, it was the weatherman.
At 8am, John Bateman, a meteorologist hired by the league, made his first presentation to some two dozen executives who are looking to him to tell them what to expect on Super Bowl Sunday.
“Not much pressure, right?” Bateman (43) said wryly. Every morning in the week leading up to the game, Bateman will face this group that is leading the multimillion-dollar enterprise, and with each passing day, it will expect ever more precision.
It is the first time the Super Bowl has been held outdoors in a cold-weather environment, and it comes during what has already been a cruel winter, first with the “polar vortex” plunging the city and much of the country into a deep freeze, and then a storm that dropped a foot of snow in New York, and then yet another blast of arctic air.
While long-range forecasts are unreliable, most forecasters agree that it should be the coldest Super Bowl ever, well below the two degrees mark set in New Orleans in 1972. With so much focus on the weather, the week leading up to the game is already shaping up to be something of a full-employment act for forecasters.
In addition to Bateman, there are meteorologists working with state and local officials, television and radio forecasters from around the country, and an army of weather fanatics likely to parse every possibility on the Internet.
Bet on weather
For those who want to bet on the weather, the online gambling site Bovada has set up odds on whether snow will fall, the temperature at kick-off and the coldest temperature during the game. But it is Bateman who has to face officials and tell them the good, the bad and the unknowable.
A week out, they might accept a forecast that offers percentages and likelihoods. Five days out, not so much. By Friday, they will want to know the shape of any impending snowflakes.
Bateman said he was told to prepare “whiz bang” charts that detail everything from wind speeds to temperature trends. But even with ever-increasing computing sophistication leading to more accurate forecasts, the weather is difficult to predict with the exactitude of a Peyton Manning pass.
The league does not just want to know if it will snow, but when, exactly, the first flakes will fall, how fast they will accumulate and when, exactly, they will end. Officials do not want just average temperatures for the day. They want to know how cold it will be at the 6:30pm eastern time kick-off.
Bateman will have many resources at his disposal. He works for a firm based in Maryland called WeatherBug that provides weather information for the NFL throughout the season.
In addition to the publicly available information, the company will be tapping into its own network of thousands of sensors, including one inside MetLife Stadium.
League officials have said that it would take a storm of extraordinary ferocity for them to change the date or time of the game. “A combination of the polar vortex, snowmageddon and sharknado,” in the words of one official.
Ultimately, the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, would decide if the game needed to be rescheduled, and league officials said that decision would most likely rest on whether local and state officials believed there was a threat to public safety. The National Weather Service will be stationing a team of meteorologists with crucial public safety officials – the first time it has ever taken such a step for the Super Bowl – and helping them interpret their forecasts.
At the stadium
They will have meteorologists with the New Jersey State Police at the stadium, at emergency management headquarters in New York City and in New Jersey, and with the New York Police Department at a mobile command center in Times Square.
“We have had so many high-impact events over the past five years – from blizzards to snowstorms to tornadoes to hurricanes – that by now we have a highly sensitive group of partners who are extremely attentive to any possibility,” said Gary Conte, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
But even with every conceivable bit of available data, and a host of professionals analysing it, forecasting winter weather can be tricky. “You tell someone it is going to rain and they really will not notice the difference between a quarter inch and a half inch,” Bateman said. But with snow, small differences add up fast.
The NFL’s executive vice president, Eric Grubman, has said that the league is prepared to handle a storm similar to the one that struck last week – depending on the timing.
In addition to the hundreds of plows, tons of salt and scores of workers ready to grab shovels, officials used the storm to demonstrate the Aero, a machine that can melt 600 tons of snow per hour. One gets a sneaking suspicion, talking to people who love talking weather, that they would like to see it used.
“In this business, meteorologists get excited when the weather is tumultuous,” Bateman said. But that, undoubtedly, is not what the NFL wants. Grubman told reporters that some people’s idea of perfection would be a light dusting of snow in the third quarter. It will be up to Bateman to let him know if that is going to happen.
New York Times Service