NOAA 2000-263
Contact: Marilu Trainor

Editor's Note: The program's name is StormReady (one word, no spacing between)

Residents of Lewis and Clark County, Mont. learned today how the public and private sectors are teaming together to better prepare their communities to handle future weather-related events or disasters.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of NOAA's National Weather Service headquartered in Silver Spring, Md. and Vickie Nadolski, director of NWS Western Region headquartered in Salt Lake City, along with local NWS officials designated the county as StormReady during a special ceremony at the Capitol building steps in Helena and attended by local and state officials.

The NWS officials presented a recognition letter and special StormReady road signs to Paul Spengler, coordinator, Lewis and Clark County Disaster and Emergency Services. The signs will be placed at entrances to the county. Helena is the 39th location across the nation to achieve the StormReady designation since the program began last year.

"Every year around 500 Americans lose their lives to severe weather. The numbers are startling with 10,000 thunderstorms, 2,500 floods, and 1,000 tornadoes impacting the U.S. each year," said Kelly. "Because potentially deadly severe weather can impact every American, the National Weather Service developed StormReady, a program to help guard against the ravages of Mother Nature.

StormReady is a new national program that gives communities the skills and education needed to survive severe weather - before and during the event. The program encourages communities to take a new pro-active approach. The nationwide community preparedness program uses a grassroots and pro-active approach to help communities develop plans to improve local hazardous weather operations and public awareness for local severe weather threats.

Kelly said, "The StormReady program is voluntary, and provides communities with clear-cut advice from a partnership with the local National Weather Service office, as well as state and local emergency managers, and the media."

Also representing the NWS were, Kenneth B. Mielke, meteorologist in charge, and Rick Dittmann, warning coordination meteorologist, at the Great Falls forecast office.

"Lewis and Clark County, including the city of Helena, was designated as StormReady on September 15 by the Great Falls, Montana StormReady Advisory Board," said Dittmann. "The board is made up of the Lewis and Clark County Emergency Management, a representative from the State of Montana Department of Emergency Services and the NWS."

Mielke noted that Lewis and Clark County is also a Federal Emergency Management Agency Project Impact community. StormReady complements Project Impact by focusing on communication and community preparedness to save lives.

Lewis and Clark County is the second Montana location to be recognized by both federal agencies for its disaster preparedness and severe weather educational activities. Billings and Yellowstone County received the dual recognition on July 13. Glasgow will receive their Storm Ready recognition on Wednesday.

Citing the need to be ready to deal with Nature's fury, National Weather Service officials revealed that statistics indicate nearly 350 tornadoes have killed three people and damaged numerous communities throughout Montana since 1950.

"These tornadoes have resulted in close to $130,000 in crop damage and nearly $41 million in property damage. Additionally, there has been more than 1,600 high wind and severe thunderstorm events documented across the state during this same time," said Dittmann. "It is very important for everyone to understand that flooding, wild land fires and other weather-related events can be a threat to those who live, work or play in our area. You not only should know what conditions bring on these weather events, but what to do when they occur."

"The StormReady program shows great promise and we hope it will catch on across the West," said Nadolski, director of the NWS Western Region headquartered in Salt Lake City. "StormReady helps communities attain a new level of preparedness and mitigation awareness that leads to protection of life and property from extreme weather-related events."

"The United States is the most severe weather prone region in the world," 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."

Spengler added his endorsement of the partnership of StormReady and Project Impact. "Through the use of the NWS' NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts, we can help save lives during severe weather. These programs are another great example of the federal, state and local agencies helping local emergency managers have a more significant impact on their community."

Lewis and Clark County Project Impact coordinator Patrick McKelvey said, "I'm very excited with this partnership between Project Impact and StormReady. These programs go hand-in-hand."

Dittmann said, "It's paramount for communities to understand the types of weather-related threats in the area, when they are most likely to occur, and prepare in advance for severe weather events. For example, the peak threat for tornadoes in Montana occurs during spring and summer and most flooding occurs during the late winter and spring. Under the auspices of StormReady, the National Weather Service will continue to help our citizens understand the dangers these weather events present. Education is a very big part of the StormReady program."

StormReady will also 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 keep your family informed of
hazardous weather," Dittmann said. "We encourage everyone to equip their homes, schools, businesses and public places with this lifesaving 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. Across Montana, there are currently 15 NOAA Weather Radio transmitters covering large population centers."

Spengler said, "While StormReady is designed to prepare communities, the actions of an individual often mean the difference between life and death. Just like communities, families and individuals need to be ready by having an action plan for severe weather events."

Also, through StormReady, the National Weather Service plans to educate every American about what to do when severe weather strikes. "Only you can save your life. The best warnings in the world won't save you if you don't take action when severe weather threatens, said Kelly."