- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2018

From oppressive heat to lightning delays, the weather has had an outsize impact on the sports world this year. Now, Hurricane Florence is causing widespread cancellations on the college football schedule and could affect game and travel plans for the Washington Redskins, Nationals and Mystics.

The threat of Florence, a Category 4 storm, has caused a million people to flee the East Coast, and the District, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina have all announced states of emergency. The storm will make landfall in the Carolinas sometime Thursday or Friday.

Beyond the more pressing and immediate concerns for human life and safety posed by Florence, the storm is causing major logistical headaches for the weekend’s sports events, from high school to the pros.

The Redskins, who are supposed to play their home opener Sunday afternoon against the Indianapolis Colts, have the only NFL game scheduled this weekend in the Mid-Atlantic region, where Florence is expected to hit hardest. The Carolina Panthers will be on the road in Atlanta, which is not expected to be directly in the storm’s forecasted path. The Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles are also away.

An NFL spokesman said the league will “remain in close communication with both clubs and local officials” as they monitor Florence.

It isn’t rare for major natural disasters to affect NFL games. Hurricane Irma forced the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to postpone their Week 1 game in 2017; it was serendipitous that they were scheduled for the same bye week, so they took the field then. Before that, a monster snowstorm in upstate New York forced the Buffalo Bills to move a 2014 game against the New York Jets to Detroit.

In college football, several games already have been moved or canceled because of Florence. North Carolina and North Carolina State will not play their respective home games Saturday, and it’s unclear if they’ll be rescheduled or not. Virginia was able to move its home game against Ohio to a neutral site in Nashville, Tennessee.

Maryland and Navy both have non-conference home games Saturday. Maryland is set to play Temple, and Navy hosts Lehigh. Their athletic departments are monitoring Florence, but as of Tuesday, they said they plan to play.

“Decisions will be based on the safety of the teams, officials, fans and others traveling to attend the game,” the Maryland athletic department said in a statement. “Any necessary changes in status will be made as soon as they are known and will be communicated.”

“Right now the track of the storm is still up in the air after it hits landfall, so it’s impossible to say how, when or even if Annapolis will be affected,” Scott Strasemeier, Navy’s senior associate athletic director for sports information, told The Washington Times. “Therefore, we plan on playing.”

The past few days have been rough for Major League Baseball, too, and no franchise is more water-logged than the Washington Nationals. They had games rained out Friday and Sunday in D.C.; then, wet grounds forced a postponement Monday in Philadelphia.

“For the safety of players on both teams, I didn’t want to put our players out there,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters in Philadelphia.

MLB is doing all that it can to play any makeup games involving possible playoff teams before regular season play ends Sept. 30. Washington was originally supposed to head to Atlanta after ending its series in Philadelphia Wednesday night, but now the Nationals have a makeup game with the Chicago Cubs on Thursday at Nationals Park — right as Florence approaches.

If other options are exhausted, it’s possible the Nationals will not play all 162 games this season, especially if a postponed game does not ultimately affect the standings and playoff positioning.

This has been one of the wettest seasons in recent memory for MLB. There were 25 games postponed in April, tying a record set in 2007, and now rain is playing havoc this month.

Speaking of storms, the Mystics are playing the Seattle Storm in the WNBA Finals, and if Washington wins Game 3 Wednesday night to extend the series, they are scheduled to play Game 4 Friday at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia. Winning again would force a Game 5 back in Seattle, currently scheduled for Sunday.

But it’s unclear if the teams would be able to fly out of the region by then if rain and winds make air travel untenable. Further, WNBA teams travel commercial and do not have chartered flights.

Though its impact will be far and away the greatest, Florence is just the latest example of Mother Nature playing games with our games in the last few weeks. Throughout the U.S. Open in New York, torrid temperatures led to the “Extreme Heat” policy being enacted several times — including for male players for the first time, as well as the women.

In college football, Maryland’s season opener against Texas was delayed by lightning for 90 minutes. But that was nothing compared to the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans sitting through four hours’ worth of lightning delays on Sunday.

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