NOAA 99-R250
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Scott Smullen
12/2/99

NOAA'S WEATHER SERVICE HELPS CENTRAL AMERICAN GOVERNMENTS PREPARE FOR HURRICANES AND FLOODS AS THEY RECONSTRUCT EARLY WARNING CAPABILITIES AFTER HURRICANE MITCH

Washington, D.C. -- A team of U.S. weather and water experts of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will provide disaster recovery assistance funds and expert guidance to five Central American weather agencies as they plan to revamp their early warning systems for hurricanes, floods and droughts in the region.

The effort comes after an intense, Category 5 Hurricane Mitch devastated much of Central America, with 180 mph winds, heavy rains and flash flooding that claimed more than 10,000 lives. Much of the Central American severe weather warning capabilities and forecast services were severely damaged by Hurricane Mitch. NOAA's team from the National Weather Service will focus on developing an early warning system within and between the countries of Central America.

"In the long term, this multi-national collaboration on regional weather expertise and data will save lives and protect property. We are pleased to work together with our Central American partners who have asked that we share technology, weather observing equipment, and forecasting knowledge as they continue to improve their disaster preparedness and weather warning systems," said U.S. Commerce Secretary, William M. Daley, who oversees NOAA.

Today, the National Weather Service team, led by its director, John J. Kelly, Jr., will start an eight-day visit with officials in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Kelly hopes to tailor the approach to each country while creating a shared weather and flood warning system.

"Saving lives, protecting property and improving the regional economy depends on the meteorologists and hydrologists in each of the countries establishing a free flow of data and information," said Kelly. "Our goal is to foster agreements between these national agencies that define responsibilities and establish the best possible services before, during, and after severe weather events. NOAA's National Weather Service and other donors will continue to help with future improvements in forecasts and warnings."

This visit to the region will kick off a two-year program, expected to begin in January 2000. Congress provided funding for the project to NOAA through USAID. Several NOAA agencies will be providing the following assistance:

National Weather Service:
-- replace damaged automatic meteorological and hydrological stations lost to Hurricane Mitch
-- reestablish upper air station in Honduras needed for hurricane forecasting
-- install river gauges needed for river flow forecasting (mainly in Honduras / joint with USGS)
-- automate precipitation gauges for real-time data
-- provide capability for computerized river stage forecasts for the Escondido River in Nicaragua, the Choluteca and Aguan rivers in Honduras, and the Rio Lempa River, which flows through El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

National Ocean Service:
-- improve capabilities along coasts to cope with impacts of hurricanes
-- install tide gauge networks

National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service
-- improve capabilities to receive and interpret satellite imagery for region

Oceanic and Atmospheric Research
-- improve El Niño/La Niña long-range forecasts for Central America

Hurricane Mitch, a Category 5 hurricane, brought heavy rains, flash floods, rock and mud slides, and winds that registered near 180 mph, with gusts well over 200 mph. Mitch was the fourth most intense hurricane ever observed in the Atlantic basin this century, based on barometric pressure, and the strongest ever observed in the month of October. Central American officials documented that Mitch claimed at least 9,086 lives in the following countries: Honduras (5,677); Nicaragua (2,863); Guatemala (258); El Salvador (239); Mexico (9) and Costa Rica (7).