NOAA 2002-R240
Contact: Curtis Carey
NOAA News Releases 2002
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Today, the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service (NOAA Weather Service) honors four community heroes for their life-saving actions during the devastating tornado system that swept through Van Wert, Ohio one month ago.

When the F4 tornado swept along its 53-mile path from southwestern Van Wert County into Henry County on November 10th, it claimed a total of 4 lives and injured 26. Only the tornado warnings issued by the weather service and the prompt action of these four individuals and many others prevented a greater loss of life.

The first-ever StormReady Community Hero Award is being given to Van Wert County Emergency Manager Rick McCoy, County Commissioner Gary Adams, and Van Wert City Mayor Stephen Gehres, for establishing the StormReady program that saved countless lives. Van Wert Cinemas assistant manager Scott Shaffer is receiving the NOAA Weather Service Public Service Award.

“Van Wert citizens will be putting their lives back together for a long time after this destructive tornado,” said McCoy. “But at least, thanks to StormReady and the lead time provided by the weather forecasts, we were able to save many, many lives.”

Alerted by a warning from the StormReady radio alert system, Shaffer and his staff evacuated more than 50 adults and children from the theater just minutes before the powerful tornado tore off the building’s roof and tossed cars into the screen and front seats where kids and parents had been watching ‘The Santa Clause 2.’ “The power of nature is an awesome thing,” he observed. “Thank God and a good staff we had enough time to get people to safety.”

Timothy R.E. Keeney, deputy assistant secretary for oceans and atmospheres for the department of commerce, said, “NOAA feels a great compassion for all those people of Van Wert who lost their homes to this destructive tornado. At the same time, we must be grateful that due to the timely forecast of NOAA Weather Service and the prompt and heroic action of the emergency management community and others, the tragedy was not worse in terms of lives lost.”

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of NOAA National Weather Service, said, “The citizens of Van Wert are thankful today that leaders like Mr. McCoy, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Gehres had the foresight to make this community StormReady. The warning alert systems they put in public locations, such as the movie theater, saved lives. These people are the epitome of StormReady Community Heroes.”

NOAA Weather Service forecasters in northern Indiana issued tornado warnings for five extreme northwest Ohio counties with an average lead time of 20 minutes, enabling the local Emergency Management Operations Center to activate the warning alert systems in public locations.

Mike Sabones, meteorologist in charge of the NOAA Weather Service forecast office in Syracuse, Indiana, worked with state and county officials for nearly a year to bring Van Wert to StormReady status. “This is a real success story for the weather service, NOAA Weather Radio and StormReady programs,” said Sabones. “It’s a case where a timely and accurate weather warning activated the system, allowing people to promptly respond, saving lives.”

More than 500 communities around the country are StormReady today. Four Ohio communities are StormReady including Van Wert County, which became a NOAA Weather Service StormReady community just 11 months before the tornadoes struck. The program helps community leaders strengthen their hazardous weather operations by improving communication systems and through public education. StormReady communities place NOAA Weather Radios, or other alert devices, in public facilities, and have community-wide public education programs to teach people how to protect themselves at work, school, on the road, or at home.

NOAA Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. NOAA Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and enhance the national economy.

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