When it comes to Colorado weather, it’s been an interesting few weeks.

Depending on where you are in the state, there has been everything from severe thunderstorms to tornadoes, flash floods, wind advisories, red flag warnings and hail the size of large hail. It’s an unusual combination of extreme events, to say the least.

So far, in addition to property and infrastructure damage, several lives have been lost and dozens more have been injured. In Boulder, five people have needed rescue from Boulder Creek with two dead. In Arapahoe County, one person died after floodwaters swept their car off the road. In perhaps the most covered news, about 100 people were injured at Red Rocks Amphitheatre after dangerous hail storms swept through the outdoor concert venue.

That water is proving the primary cause of injuries or death in a state that still faces extreme long-term drought is beyond ironic. Yet here we are, balancing too much and too little water at the same time. And now, it seems Coloradans want to know whom to blame.

Per usual, most of us have been quick to take and defend one side. Regarding the events at Red Rocks, many immediately blamed the venue for any and all wrongdoing. Others pointed fingers at the ticket holders citing personal responsibility. One Colorado news commentator, Kyle Clark, sought to condemn those in the latter camp suggesting personal responsibility in weather events was antithetical to historical Western values. 

So who’s right? Who’s to blame?

To answer these questions we have to ask several more: To what extent, if any, is an outdoor venue responsible for mitigating weather-related injuries? Do Coloradans hold any responsibility when it comes to weather and keeping safe? Does readily available technology that can provide high-quality weather information alter the equation?

Unlike many, I see no easy answers; I think both the venue and patrons have a responsibility, and I think both have ways to improve to prevent it from happening again.

Let’s start with the venue. Yes, Red Rocks can and should do more to improve safety from extreme weather. It was a scary and dangerous situation for its staff and patrons alike, and any venue management should want to improve such experiences. Better access to large emergency shelters, for example, could have made a big difference. There’s also the question of if they should have canceled the event altogether to begin with, as some other outdoor public venues did.

Yet as more details emerge from the night in question, it’s a bit more complex than simply holding the venue fully at fault. Weather forecasters far and wide had predicted severe storms in the area that night, meaning that it wasn’t only concert staff that knew the risk. And to the venue’s credit, upon receiving alerts they postponed the show start and posted huge warnings on stage telling patrons to seek shelter not once, but twice.

Unfortunately, as even those who were injured acknowledge, many concertgoers did not leave their seats after the first warning, instead choosing to remain packed in the open venue with little way to get out quickly. This immediately raises the question of if outcomes might have been different had everyone actually followed the venue’s first shelter warning, opening a door for patron responsibility.

Questioning if patrons also held a role in improving safety in no way suggests I don’t have sympathy for those who were injured. I definitely do. I still remember the first time I got pelted with Colorado hail. It hurt, a lot, and there was little I could do to stop it. But just as I didn’t blame Rocky Mountain National Park for the unexpected hail that welted me, I’m not entirely sure that blaming an outdoor venue during known severe storm warnings and prominent shelter alerts is entirely fair, either.

What I do think, however, is that Coloradans are finally getting a real taste of what climate change will look like, and they’re not happy with the increasingly confusing weather. As storms become more erratic and extreme, and therefore more difficult to predict or gauge risks, we’ll all need to reevaluate what we deem safe. Maybe a few years ago it was OK to ignore storm alerts at Red Rocks. Now we know it’s not. Meanwhile, maybe we’re all just seeking explanations and people to hold responsible for what we don’t recognize as normal.

This leads us to one more question that should be asked: How much responsibility do we all hold in events like these for collectively ignoring climate change? While no one weather event is a direct result, per se, we have contributed to the overall instability of climate and therefore weather. How does that factor in?

Without a doubt, injuries and deaths are tragic no matter the cause. I can’t stress enough that in no way do I intend to undermine the trauma people experienced that night. It was a scary event, and the venue absolutely has a responsibility to make safety improvements.

But if we want better outcomes in the future, I don’t accept that we can overlook personal and collective responsibility entirely in this instance. For as much as it pains us, that probably means changes from both the venue and concertgoers are needed.

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio

Trish Zornio

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Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio