FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Keli Tarp
NOAA WANTS NATION TO BE STORMREADY
Just two months into the year 2000, already 18 Americans have lost their lives to 29 tornadoes. This follows two of the busiest years on record for the deadly phenomenon. Since 1998, nearly 2,700 tornadoes have killed almost 200 people and devastated numerous communities. Against that backdrop, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today unveils StormReady, a new national program designed to give communities a fighting chance against tornadoes and other types of severe weather.
StormReady encourages communities to take a new proactive approach to improving local hazardous weather operations and public awareness, said John J. "Jack" Kelly Jr., director of NOAA's National Weather Service. The nationwide community preparedness program uses a grassroots approach to help communities develop plans to handle local severe weather threats from tornadoes to tsunamis.
The program is voluntary, and provides communities with clear-cut advice from a partnership with the local National Weather Service Office, state and local emergency managers, and the media.
The program was started by the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Tulsa, Oklahoma as a grassroots effort to educate residents about storm safety. Kelly said the National Weather Service's goal is to make 20 communities StormReady each year for the next five years.
"The local program works so well and holds such great promise for other communities, we think it will catch on across the country," Kelly said. "StormReady addresses the need for a new level of community awareness to protect life and property from extreme weather. Through vital partnerships, we will save lives with the StormReady program."
Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Civil Emergency Management, added his endorsement of StormReady. "The emergency management community appreciates the effort of the National Weather Service to provide information through NOAA Weather Radio to help save lives during severe weather. The StormReady program is another great example of the federal, state and local partnership that will help emergency managers have a more significant impact on their community," Ashwood said. "We're especially pleased that the idea we developed with local and federal partners in Oklahoma is now becoming available nationally for others to use to save lives."
Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher said, "The StormReady program will save lives and protect property. I would encourage city leaders, across Oklahoma and throughout the nation, to participate in the StormReady program. It is my hope that participation in this program will lead to lower damage claims and, in turn, lower premiums for policyholders."
"The United States is the most severe weather prone region in the world, with 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 1,000 tornadoes and 1,000 flash floods each year on average," Kelly said. "The mission of the National Weather Service is to reduce loss of life and property from these storms. StormReady will help us create better prepared communities throughout the country"
Now is the time for communities to prepare for severe weather, Kelly added. The peak threat for tornadoes in the southeastern United States occurs during March, according to a statistical review conducted by scientists at NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory using severe storm data from 1980 to 1994. The most killer tornadoes, the review found, occur in March and April. Then the tornado threat moves west and north, peaking in tornado alley including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and eastern Colorado in May and early June.
StormReady will strengthen a community's ability to receive and use severe weather watches and warnings from the National Weather Service.
"NOAA Weather Radios with alarms are the surest way to protect your family," Kelly said. "We encourage everyone to equip their homes, schools, businesses and public places with this life-saving device. NOAA Weather Radios should be as common as smoke detectors."
While 85 to 95 percent of Americans can receive NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts, only five to 10 percent of Americans own a NOAA Weather Radio.
Also, through StormReady, the National Weather Service plans to educate every American about what to do when severe weather strikes. The tornado outbreak in Oklahoma and Kansas last May 3rd provided important safety lessons that StormReady will share with its members.
First, many people survived the tornadoes with only minor injuries by seeking shelter underground, in an above ground engineered shelter such as a safe room, or in a well-constructed building on the lowest floor in an interior room such as a bathroom or closet.
Second, highway overpasses are not acceptable storm shelters. Strong winds and flying debris caused two deaths and numerous injuries for people hiding under overpasses in Oklahoma. In addition, parked cars under one overpass blocked traffic, trapping people in the path of the violent tornado. Once the tornado passed, the blocked road also prevented emergency vehicles from gaining access to the affected areas, endangering more lives.
While StormReady is designed to prepare communities, it's the actions of an individual that often mean the difference between life and death.
"Just like communities, families need
to be storm ready by having an action plan for severe weather,"