NOAA 03-R269
Contact: Marilu Trainor
NOAA News Releases 2003
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) conferred its Unit Citation Award to the staff of the Weather Service Forecast Office located in Eureka, Calif. They were recognized for providing outstanding public service during a series of significant winter storms from Dec. 13 through Dec. 16, 2002. NOAA is an agency of the Department of Commerce.

Eureka Meteorologist in Charge Nancy Dean was presented the award today by NOAA National Weather Service's Western Regional Systems Operations Division Chief, Bob Diaz, and Administrative Management Division Chief, Jean Okumura, from Salt Lake City.

The staff was recognized for their exceptional performance during the series of storms that struck the north coast of California last year. As early as Dec. 8, the staff began to raise the awareness of the public and emergency response agencies of the impending significant weather events by issuing a Hazardous Weather Outlook.

According to Dean, “We also issued a flood potential outlook on December 11. Calls were made to county emergency service personnel, the sheriffs’ departments and the California Highway Patrol. Detailed information was provided about the potential flooding, high surf, and high winds. This additional information enabled the impacted agencies and non-governmental organizations to begin planning how they will deal with their upcoming responsibilities.”

“The weather service’s 33 hours of lead time was verified and exceeded the national goal of 7.6 hours. The ample warning enabled the emergency agencies and the public to prepare for the storms potential. The staff from the forecast office is credited with potentially saving lives and avoiding costly property damage to area residents as a result of their teamwork and professionalism,” said Diaz.

John Lovegrove, warning coordination meteorologist, added, “All rivers were at extremely low levels leading up to this event, then, rose rapidly as the well-advertised heavy rainfall began on December 13. The Eel River at Fernbridge was at one half foot late that Friday afternoon and then rose to flood stage of 20 feet by the next evening and crested at 22.2 feet on December 16.”

Lovegrove added that dairy ranchers located on low-lying pastures were able to evacuate their herds to higher ground. This advance notice of the flood led to the potential safeguarding of over 2,500 head of cattle from the threat of drowning.

One of NOAA National Weather Service’s new river forecast points on the Navarro River also received its first operational test during the storm.

“This site has a flood stage level of 23 feet,” said Dean. “Because the flood warnings issued by our office, the California Department of Transportation closed the highway which lies along the Navarro River. This roadway is a major access route to the Mendocino coastal region and flooded at the predicted flood stage. On December 16, the Navarro River crested at 32 feet, nine feet above flood stage.”

Lovegrove also credits the media with helping to educate the public about the storms, helping to ensure the public took preventive actions during a normally busy holiday shopping period. The California Highway Patrol reported a quiet weekend regarding traffic accidents despite the adverse driving conditions.

“No lives were lost due to flooding, high winds or high surf during this period,” said Dean. “The attention the public paid to the advance notices, safety messages and media coverage of events prevented potential tragedies.”

In accepting the award, Dean said, “The entire forecast office staff did an exceptional job in stepping up to the challenge during this time. The way they handled that extra workload enabled them to ensure that the highest quality products and services were delivered in every program area. We also want to thank our many partners in the emergency management arenas as well as the media for helping us to disseminate our safety messages. We will continue to work together to protect the lives and property of the public.”

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

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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