Ever wonder how stadiums keep their turf ready for game day? Whether it is extreme heat or cold, flooding or snow, there is a lot that goes into maintaining a NFL field and keeping it up to guidelines. We interviewed the Philadelphia Eagles' Director of Grounds Tony Leonard and got the answers to these questions on the Weather Lounge Podcast "The Gameday Forecast w/The Philadelphia Eagles".
Tony Leonard got into groundskeeping in college. He went to Penn State University studying Turf-Grass Science. He says "A lot of us went on to be golf course superintendents" but he went down the road less traveled into sports. Tony had an internship with the Baltimore Ravens which sparked his career. He then went on to graduate in 1997, landing a position with the Eagles in 1999, and he hasn't looked back.
Now let's get into taking care of the field and how weather is involved. Have you ever wondered how the field is always so pristine? Well, at Lincoln Financial Field and the Nova Care practice fields, they use "Bermuda Grass and it's a variety called Tahoma". This is a type of grass that grows best in the summer months when it's hot and humid, and it is "the best for players to perform on at the highest level". In the winter, Bermuda Grass gets something called "winter kill" which means the grass will not withstand the cold. However, with some technology, this grass can take on cold weather much better than in previous years. Namely, heating coils are placed under the field near the root system. So while the air temperature might be below freezing, the root system remains warm which keeps the grass healthy.
One interesting tidbit about making sure a field is ready for a game is painting the lines. If they need to paint lines and it's windy, the wind can easily blow the paint around and from Tony Leonard, "it is almost impossible to paint the field with wind". Forecasts can help plan painting operations around the wind. However, it's not only the groundscrew that's affected, kickers/punters have trouble too. These kickers have to know the wind speed and direction in order to know where/how to kick the ball. If these parameters are not perfectly forecasted, it can impact the course of the game so it is important to have them correct.
Changing directions a bit, one of the most important things for any stadium is making sure the customers/fans are safe. This can get a little tricky with a packed house and lightning in the forecast. With an open stadium during the summer, lightning is always a hazard and when thunderstorms are in the forecast, the grounds crew must know exactly when these storms will arrive. There can be 70,000 people in the stadium while storms are approaching and you have to get them safely indoors. That is way WeatherWorks meteorologists give as much lead time as possible to clients with lightning hazards. Interestingly, during a game, it's up to the referee and they make the decision when to delay game. This is why a 24/7 weather consultation service is of the utmost importance.
Shifting gears to winter, a football game during a snowstorm is always fun to watch. However, it's not so great for the grounds crew since they have to remove all of the snow from the stadium. Their goal is to "remove every flake before the fans show up". If there is a 6" snow storm prior to a game, the entire stadium has to be snowblown/shoveled and they can't leave it anywhere. Why? Well, snow piled up by the side-walls near the stands, can be an open invitation for fans to easily jump on to the field, creating a problem for game play and security. Removing this snow is obviously a lot of hard work. So, while we love watching these games, there is a lot of preparation to get the stadium ready for the fans. If it's snowing during the game, although the field is heated, it is not warm enough to melt the snow. So the top priority is to clear the field to make sure the lines are visible. This can be tricky as this clearing is done between plays/quarters.
There's so much more we spoke with Tony about, so be sure to listen to the entire podcast above. Also, you can listen to all of our podcasts here:
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