High school athletic programs across Texas are grappling with new recommendations from the University Interscholastic League (UIL) to use wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) for making decisions about modifying practices and competitions in hot weather. This measurement aims to provide a more accurate assessment of heat stress risk compared to the previously used heat index.
While implementation requires some adjustment, following the guidelines is critical for student athlete safety according to experts like Josh Woodall, Assistant Director of Athletics and Head Athletic Trainer at Bryan ISD. He joined a recent webinar to discuss what the new WBGT recommendations mean for high school athletic programs.
Why WBGT is the New Standard
WBGT takes into account four key measurements – air temperature, humidity, wind speed, and radiant heat from the sun. It was developed by the military to gauge heat stress more accurately than metrics like heat index.
Research shows that WBGT provides a better indication of how effectively the body can cool itself through sweating. This is because it includes the radiant heat component, whereas heat index only looks at air temperature and humidity.
“Heat index is measured in the shade, but we don’t have shade on our practice and game fields. When you add that radiant heat from direct sunlight, it changes the entire outlook.” – Josh Woodall
There are still some misconceptions about WBGT and how it relates to actual temperatures outside. But it’s measured on its own scale and doesn’t directly correlate with heat index.
Adopting WBGT aligns with best safety practices for athletes. That’s why the UIL recommended its use, even though heat index guidelines were still just a recommendation before.
Challenges of Implementation
For athletic staff like Woodall, the priority is always student athlete safety. But implementing the new WBGT guidelines does create some challenges.
Modifying practice times is one hurdle. Many students rely on bus transportation, so switching to early morning practices before school requires creative solutions. Some options include coordinated carpools or running special bus routes.
It also means adapting schedules and expectations. Restricting outdoor time or removing equipment as conditions dictate can frustrate coaches. But focusing on safety as the top concern helps overcome these obstacles.
Measuring and Monitoring WBGT
Actually measuring WBGT on-site is essential for accurate monitoring. Specialized instruments that include a black globe thermometer are required.
The globe absorbs and measures radiant heat from the sun. This is a key variable missing from off-site weather data or heat index calculations.
Woodall emphasized the importance of taking readings before and continuously during practices as conditions change. Alert systems that notify coaches when thresholds are exceeded are extremely valuable.
At Bryan ISD, they watch trends in the hour leading up to activities to anticipate changes. Unless WBGT stays above key thresholds for 5-10 minutes, they don’t make modifications, avoiding overreacting to transient spikes.
Policies and Communication
Having clear written policies in place is vital for successful adoption of WBGT guidelines. At Bryan ISD they created a simple bullet point list of restrictions at different WBGT levels that is shared online and on mobile for easy access.
When certain thresholds are reached, coaches also receive customized alerts through their weather monitoring system. This real-time communication eliminates reliance on coaches checking or interpreting guidelines on their own.
While measuring WBGT and making appropriate call-offs requires diligence, Woodall emphasized that with preparation it does not have to be difficult. The most important thing is keeping student athlete safety first, even when that means disrupting normal routines.
Transitioning to WBGT guidelines represents a major step forward in heat safety for Texas high school sports. While some adjustments will be necessary, athletic programs like Bryan ISD show that prioritizing student athletes makes that adaptation worthwhile.
Ongoing education and improved access to accurate WBGT measurement tools will be critical next steps. But as Woodall stated, “this is going to help in the long run if everybody is using this and looking at this.”
The bottom line is protecting students from preventable heat illness. Following the WBGT recommendations demonstrates a commitment to their wellbeing above all else.
Should we change our WBGT policy for younger athletes?
The UIL recommends to lower the WBGT threshold for younger athletes, like middle school or elementary athletes. Their bodies aren’t quite as matured and developed as an older high-school aged athlete, therefore they require some a more conservative approach.
Are UIL WBGT regulations for practice and games different?
The UIL does not differentiate between practice or games. As per the heat stress and athletic recommendations from the UIL, readings should be taken before and during every outside event or practice to accommodate accordingly based on adopted guidelines.
Do different surfaces impact WBGT?
Studies have shown that “no difference in median WBGTs among three different athletic surfaces”.
To learn more about WBGT on different surface types, check out our blog “Comparing Wet Bulb Globe Temperatures Across Athletic Surfaces“.
How should I handle fluctuating WBGT readings thatgo in and out of our policy zones?
Situations like this are up to individuals and their weather policies. Perry Weather is customizable to meet the standards of whatever you policy is. If you are looking to set your policiueis, here is the UIL recommendations. Perry Weather account executive will walk you through best practices and set your policies up for you.
How accurate are WBGT readings without an on-site weather station?
It’s best to have an on-site station at each individual loation as WBGT can vary significantly depending on immediate surroundings. Perry Weather stations is affordable and scalable and many of our clients have them on all campus locations in their district.
That said, some Perry Weather clients use data from stations located at nearby campuses, but proceed with caution as there are many variables that factor into calculating an accurate WBGT reading that may change based on location.