Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Is Your Community... StormReady?

In the vast world of meteorology, certain dates stick out in the minds of weather fanatics.  Maybe it's May 3rd, 1999, when an F-5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma - a suburb of Oklahoma City.  Or maybe August 26th, 2005, the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Mississippi River delta.  Here at home, January 1996, or the Blizzard of '96.  One that people may not pay particular attention to is November 10th, 2002.

Imagine this.  You are sitting in the movie theater in Van Wert, Ohio.  Knowing it was supposed to be a gloomy and stormy day, you have decided to take your kids to see The Santa Clause 2, along with a number of other parents who had the same idea.  Suddenly, you hear commotion outside in the hallway.  The lights go up and a movie theater worker rushes in and informs everyone to follow him.  People cram into the hallways, rushing into restrooms and closets.  Someone then shouts that a tornado is headed toward the town, and that everyone should get down.  After what seems like an hour, the power goes out, and you can hear pieces of the building get torn apart.  You fear the worst crouch and cover your kids.  After the big wind stops, there's silence.  The workers at the movie theater conduct a quick head count and discover, rather miraculously, that no one has been seriously injured, or missing. 
Sounds like a scene from Twister 2: Revenge of the Twister, right?  This actually occurred on November 10th 2002, in Van Wert County, OH.  Van Wert was one of the first areas in the US to establish themselves as a "StormReady" County.  As a part of this, the county emergency manager handed out weather radios to various popular buildings in the county, and also hosted a severe weather seminar.  After receiving the weather radio, the manager of the movie theater attended the severe weather seminar.  Armed with this knowledge, when the tornado warning was issued for Van Wert County, the movie theater manager knew what it meant and that he needed to get people to safety.  Knowing where the safest place to be in a tornado, the manager and his staff led about 50 movie patrons, including a number of children, to the interior of the building.  Van Wert County had a 28 minute lead time from the time the warning was issued to when the monster F-4 tornado struck, killing two people in other areas of the county. 
The StormReady program is an initiative that promotes community preparedness.  As it is sponsored by the National Weather Service, they issue recognition to communities that show and demonstrate severe weather readiness.  To become StormReady, you must: Establish a 24-hour warning point (i.e 911 call center), have redundant communications systems to receive severe weather information AND to alert the public.  You must also create and/or maintain a system to monitor local weather conditions.  Finally, communities must help promote the need for public readiness and provide proof of a formal hazardous weather plan.  Somewhere in those last two requirements, the necessity for severe weather spotter classes, or SKYWARN training classes must be planned.
The idea of StormReady came from Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1999, an area that has its share of severe weather – especially tornadoes.  First called StormWise, StormReady as it became known, is the only NWS-sponsored preparedness program.  As of March 2012, there are 1,874 total StormReady sites – including 924 counties, 749 separate communities, 105 universities, 47 commercial sites and 28 military sites.  The success of StormReady has also spawned another “-Ready” program, called TsumaniReady.  Totaled, there are 101 TsunamiReady sites as well.  In Pennsylvania, Montgomery and Chester counties are StormReady, as well as places like Penn State – Main Campus, The City of Pittsburgh and the Hershey Entertainment Complex.  In New Jersey, shore towns such as Wildwood, Avalon, Ocean City, LBI and Beach Haven are all certified.  Six Flags – Great Adventure and Morey’s Piers are also StormReady.  All three counties in Delaware are StormReady, as well as Cecil County in Maryland.
While the date of November 10th, 2002 might not stick out, that may be positive.  The skills and knowledge received from attending seminars and becoming StormReady may have prevented the date becoming known for a different reason – a sheer tragedy.