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NOAA News Releases 2004
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The U.S. Department of Commerce has awarded its prestigious Bronze Medal to the NOAA National Weather Service group assigned to provide weather support for Space Shuttle Columbia recovery teams. The group included forecasters from NWS Southern Region Headquarters and Weather Forecast Offices in the Southern, Central and Eastern Regions. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

For nearly four months during the spring of 2003, 450 federal, state, and local agencies participated in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster recovery effort. That effort included nine NWS forecasters, deployed to protect the life and property of the 25,000 people involved in the debris search.

Forecasts and warnings, in support of ground operations, covered almost 2,000 square miles, 5,000 flight hours of air operations and dive operations at a reservoir. Since the disaster occurred in February when the east Texas countryside was brown and the brush was still bare, debris needed to be found quickly. By May, dense foliage, grass, and thickets would cover much of the Columbia debris field. The forecasts and warnings helped crews recover almost 40 percent of the debris.

Recovery effort commanders credited the group with keeping them informed by providing accurate forecasts and assuring their teams’ safety with timely warnings when severe weather threatened. The group also kept them productive by getting the teams back to work soon after bad weather passed. For example, a severe weather forecast on April 6th allowed more than 2,500 people to retreat safely before three tornadoes ripped through the area.

Group members included SRH Regional Aviation Meteorologist Paul Witsaman; Lead Forecaster William Adams, WFO Shreveport, La.; Lead Forecaster Thomas Bird, WFO El Paso, Texas; Forecaster Rick Davis, WFO Tampa Bay, Fla., Forecaster Joe Harris, WFO Fort Worth, Texas; Lead Forecaster Gregory Murdoch and Forecaster Seth Nagle, WFO Midland/Odessa, Texas; Lead Forecaster Jonathan Pelton, WFO Jackson, Ky.; and, Forecaster John Wachter, WFO Albuquerque, N.M.

The award was presented at a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. The secretary of commerce presents the Bronze Medal to commerce department offices and employees who have made outstanding or significant contributions in support of the overall departmental goals that serve the nation.

NOAA's National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. NOAA's National Weather Service 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.

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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