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UND alumnus to forecast weather for Olympic golf games in Brazil

When golf returns to the Olympics this summer after a 112-year absence, a UND graduate will be there making sure the players and spectators are safe.

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PGA meteorologist and UND grad, Wade Stettner, photographed at Ray Richards Golf Course, was a featured speaker at the Northern Plains Convective Storm Symposium Tuesday at Clifford Hall. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

When golf returns to the Olympics this summer after a 112-year absence, a UND graduate will be there making sure the players and spectators are safe.

For the past 11 years, Wade Stettner has worked as an on-site consultant meteorologist with the PGA Tour, alerting tournament officials of potential severe weather, providing warning for lightning strikes and forecasting possible weather hazards.

In August, Stettner will travel to Rio de Janeiro to do those duties for the golf events during the Summer Olympics.

"I think it's going to be the best ever," Stettner said about going to the Olympics.

For 26 weeks out of the year, the Hancock, Minn., native who now lives in the Twin Cities travels the country-and sometimes the world-providing on-site meteorology for PGA Tour events. A job that didn't exist when he was in college, Stettner now provides weather support for any type of conditions that might impact the event, whether that's a thunderstorm, frost, wind gusts or rain.

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Arriving at the course before sunrise, Stettner begins putting together forecasts and giving briefings on the weather to tournament organizers. Throughout the day, he's on the course monitoring the weather, sometimes until sunset.

When it's storming, he's constantly in the weather office checking conditions, but on a nice day, Stettner can relax a little bit.

"On sunny days, you can kind of have the day off," he said laughing. "You're still there because they might be concerned about something coming tomorrow or the next day, but you get to enjoy the sunny days. It's kind of all or nothing."

Stettner was in Grand Forks Tuesday for the Northern Plains Convective Storm Symposium, where he gave a speech about player and spectator safety at golf events. He then participated in a panel of meteorologists at the symposium.

Stettner said he always had an interest in weather and attended UND to study atmospheric sciences and meteorology. Several years later, he developed an interest in working at golf tournaments when the company he worked for at the time, which has since been bought by Schneider Electric, received the contract to provide an on-site meteorologist.

"When I heard that, I knew I wanted to be part of it," he said. "I wanted to get out in the forefront and I've been doing it ever since."

Now Stettner is part of a six-person team that Schneider Electric sends to golf events around the world.

Stettner and his colleagues have been at the forefront of making sure everybody that attends a major golf tournament remains safe if severe weather-and particularly lightning-strikes. He's constantly monitoring storms on days where there's the potential for severe weather, staring at computers that update where the latest lightning strike was in the area within seconds and equipment that monitors if the clouds in the area are electrified.

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"We don't want that first lightning strike to be on the course," he said.

The PGA Tour has put an emphasis on making sure people remain safe when lightning is a possibility by making sure participants, spectators and tour officials are kept updated on the weather and having a weather action plan ready to go.

Lightning deaths have continuously decreased in the U.S. over the past few decades, and Stettner said organizations such as the PGA Tour making that a priority have contributed to people's knowledge of lightning's danger.

"It's not like a baseball stadium where someone can get on the PA and say, 'Everyone needs to go to the concourse,' and five minutes later everybody is in the concourse area," Stettner said. "Golf is many acres-from one end to the other, it could be a full mile-and if you wait for a storm to get on you, there will be people on the far end of the golf course who have a mile to walk to get out of the way. So they need to be very proactive when it comes to alerting everyone of inclement weather to help protect the safety."

It's the PGA's emphasis on preventing lightning-related incidents that will send Stettner to the Olympics this summer. While the National Weather Service in Brazil will supply weather support for the games, the PGA Tour is bringing their own meteorologists.

"It's very possible this summer that golf at the Olympics could be suspended while other venues continue to operate because they will not have the same criteria that golf will," Stettner said. "But golf is so careful with their players, and I kind of wish that was the same case everywhere."

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