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NOAA News Releases 2005
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A Silver Medal - one of the highest honors granted by the Secretary of the Department of Commerce - has been awarded to the staff of NOAA’s National Weather Service in Omaha/Valley, Neb., for life-saving service prior to and during the massive Hallam, Neb., tornado on May 22, 2004.

“This Silver Medal is indicative of the dedication of the Omaha forecast office as they were challenged to provide accurate and timely warnings during a destructive severe weather event,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “I’m very proud that the Secretary of Commerce has chosen NOAA National Weather Service personnel to receive this award.”

The Silver Medal honors “exceptional performance characterized by noteworthy or superlative contributions that have a direct and lasting impact within the Department.”

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez will present the Silver Medal to Steven D. Schurr, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service forecast office in Omaha, and Scott E. Dergan, senior forecaster, at a ceremony in the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium at the Commerce building in Washington, D.C. on December 6.

“I am proud to accept the Department of Commerce Silver Medal on behalf of the entire staff, each of whom plays a key role in our warning and forecast operations,” Schurr said. “We are proud of the service we provide to the residents of eastern Nebraska.”

With the assistance of local emergency management and media prior to the devastating storm, the staff at the National Weather Service forecast office in Omaha/Valley helped prepare the public in the four-county area through the StormReady Program. The National Weather Service provides for effective storm spotter training and enhancement of county emergency preparedness. The combination of effective warnings, a trained and well-organized spotter network and a well prepared public ready to take protective actions resulted in just a single fatality and 38 relatively minor injuries from the F4 tornado that struck May 22, 2004.

Tornado warnings from the forecast office provided more than 10 minutes notice to each county in the storm’s 54-mile path of destruction. Hallam residents had 27 minutes to take shelter before the tornado hit the town.

The tornado cut an unusually-wide swath in the more than 50 miles from Daykin to Palmyra. The half-mile wide tornado grew to more than two miles in width at Hallam. National Weather Service records indicated this to be among the widest tornadoes ever documented. The tornado’s damage path impacted nearly 2,000 individuals in about 400 residences and other buildings, according to National Weather Service records.

“The actions by everyone on May 22, 2004, illustrate the positive effect a sustained cooperative effort among the National Weather Service, emergency management, organized storm spotters, law enforcement, media and the public can have in a time of crisis,” Schurr said. “The impact in terms of lives lost and injuries would certainly have been much greater if those relationships and preparations had not been in place.”

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.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the Department of Commerce, 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. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA Is working with its federal partners and nearly 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet if observes.

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