Here in the Smokies, the weather can change quickly. I’m no meteorologist, so I have no idea how to interpret weather patterns, but thankfully there’s a team at Dollywood dedicated to watching the weather in and around the park, so you don’t have to worry about that on a trip. I was able to go behind the scenes with TJ on the safety team. He’s one of the hosts who works in Dollywood’s dispatch center tracking severe weather when it blows through the Smokies.
I already knew that rides have to shut down when lightning is in the area, but how do ride operators across the park know when lightning strikes? When I was a kid, I would get a little irritated when I was standing in line for a ride and it had to close for lightning. “It isn’t even storming!” I would sometimes think. But sitting with TJ gave me the opportunity to see what the dispatch staff sees as opposed to what we might (or might not) see as we’re waiting in a queue line for our favorite ride.
In Dollywood’s dispatch center, there is a radar system that tracks lightning, cloud coverage, temperature and wind speed. Park leaders set up a paging system that goes to all channels: radio, email, even text alerts. If lightning is detected within 10 miles of Dollywood, it puts rides on alert that they might need to shut down soon. If the lightning is within five miles, the entire park is paged to take shelter and the rides are closed. Dollywood practices its communication and is able to share urgent messages so that ride hosts can be ready to shut down instantly when there is lightning to make sure that guests are safe.
When it comes to non-severe weather elements, each ride manufacturer has its own guidelines that Dollywood follows. While just rain alone doesn’t have to put a damper on the whole day, there are a few rides that have to close when it’s raining, such as Dizzy Disk and Whistle Punk Chaser. There are temperature limitations for some rides, too. Dollywood even has wind trackers on the ground and on the level of even the tallest rides because if there are sustained wind speeds of 33 mph for at least 15 minutes, most rides will have to shut down.
Speaking of Dollywood’s Splash Country, there is a separate team at the water park watching everything just like at Dollywood.
Of course there are ways to have fun at the park rain or shine, but safety is definitely the priority, and the dispatch team makes sure of it. As summer approaches, I don’t know whether to tell you to bring a poncho or a fan. I’ll probably have both just in case. Either way, you can rest assured that Dollywood is watching the weather, and you’ll be notified of anything that can rain on your parade.