NOAA 03-R299-22
Contact: Pat Slattery
NOAA News Releases 2003
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Andrew J. Bailey and Eric A. Helgeson, lead forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service office in Rapid City have been selected as 2003 recipients of the U. S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal for actions during the Daley Wildfire Complex in June 2002. Scheduled for presentation at a Sept. 18, 2003, awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., the Gold Medal is the most distinguished employee award presented annually by the Commerce Department. NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce.

Bailey and Helgeson teamed with fellow forecaster Charles M. Baker at the Riverton, Wyo., forecast office in providing forecast information that directly saved the lives of 40 firefighters the evening of June 29, 2002.

Diligently watching development of wild fires and weather conditions in an area of northeast Wyoming covered by the two NOAA Weather Service offices, the three weather forecasters simultaneously realized the perils posed by an approaching cold front. They realized thunderstorms along the cold front had produced an outflow boundary that extended well ahead of the front. Surface observations from the area indicated the front would arrive earlier and with much stronger winds than previously anticipated, and with a drastic shift in wind direction.

Bailey, Helgeson and Baker contacted dispatcher Trina Reid at the Casper Dispatch Center with the new information, providing her with crucial information about the earlier arrival and higher winds and wind shift accompanying the cold front. Reid immediately radioed incident commanders in the area to send their firefighting crews to safety zones because a dramatic change in wind speed and direction would occur
within 10 minutes. All the incident commanders heeded the warning, disengaged firefighting crews and moved them to safety zones.

Within minutes of 40 firefighters reaching the safety zones, winds increased from 20 mph to 70 mph and switched direction 180 degrees. According to U.S. Forest Service reports, flames ran through three miles of tinder-dry ponderosa pine, juniper, sagebrush and grass in less than two hours.

Campbell County Fire Department Incident Commander Rich Hauber said, “If those meteorologists hadn’t been on the ball, and if Trina hadn’t received that call and made an immediate radio transmission, none of us would be here today. None of us could have escaped the awesome power of that fire.”

“Eric, Andy and Charles exhibited great situational awareness in a vital National Weather Service program,” David M. Carpenter, meteorologist in charge of the Rapid City forecast office said.“ Their experience and attention to detail was directly responsible for saving 40 lives. You can’t do better than that.”

The 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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