Contact: Pat Slattery

NOAA News Releases 2004
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The U.S. Department of Commerce has awarded its prestigious Silver Medal to the NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office in Sioux Falls, S.D. The award recognizes the outstanding service provided by the staff of the forecast office during the June 24, 2003, record tornado outbreak across eastern South Dakota. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The Sioux Falls Weather Service staff provided incredible life-saving services over an eight-hour period in which 67 tornadoes (equaling the one-day record in the United States) touched down in 16 South Dakota counties covered by the office. Staff members performed these duties even while knowing their own families were being forced to take shelter. Staff members themselves were forced to take shelter for 10 minutes when a tornado neared the office.

Despite the record number of tornadoes and significant property damage, there were no fatalities and only six injuries from the storms. Sioux Falls staffers issued 44 tornado warnings during the day-long event and kept residents informed with an extraordinary level of information output. During a typical tornado event, NWS forecasters issue weather statements and updates every 5-10 minutes. During the historic day, Sioux Falls forecasters issued statements every 1-2 minutes.

Sioux Falls forecasters were able to provide tornado warnings that gave residents an average of 16.5 minutes advance notice and time to take shelter. For the day’s strongest tornado (rated F4 with winds of 207-260 mph) at Manchester, forecasters were able to issue a warning 28 minutes before it hit. Although the town was demolished, there were no fatalities and only three injuries. Forecasters were also credited with saving more than 100 lives on a commercial aircraft bound for Sioux Falls airport. The plane’s approach and landing were delayed when a NWS forecaster called the tower to inform controllers of an approaching tornado.

The award was presented at a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. The secretary of commerce presents the Silver Medal, the agency’s second highest honorary award, to commerce department offices and employees for exceptional performance characterized by noteworthy or superlative contributions that have a direct and lasting impact within the department.

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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