2

Tornado Preparedness Activities

The NWS office in Midland is responsible for issuing severe weather warnings and administering disaster preparedness for 17 counties in the south plains of west Texas and in one county in the extreme southeast corner of New Mexico (see Figure 3 ). Successful preparedness programs consist of both organizational and individual training and education. Organizational training in severe storm identification is necessary for an effective warning system, while individual education is essential to prepare citizens for severe weather conditions. Organizational activities are designed to encourage emergency operations plans, storm-reporting networks, and effective dissemination of warnings. While these activities are being conducted, individuals must be made aware of safety measures for self-protection.

PUBLIC AWARENESS WEEK

The NWS office in Midland and the local news media have drawn the public's attention to severe weather with “Severe Weather Awareness Week in the Permian Basin.” The second annual weather awareness event was held the week of February 22, 1987 (see Appendix C ). In conjunction with weather awareness week, the meteorologist in charge (MIC) in Midland sponsored a severe weather workshop for media representatives on February 12, 1987. Workshop participants also included emergency management and law enforcement agencies and amateur radio storm spotters. The workshop focused on improved understanding of the problems participants encountered during severe weather situations. During the workshop, public education material was distributed to the media. The workshop increased public awareness through numerous severe weather programs by Midland/Odessa radio and television stations. It also improved coordination of operational efforts among participants. Unfortunately, media representatives from small rural stations did not attend the workshop. Small staffs and low budgets often prohibit their participation.



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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO 2 Tornado Preparedness Activities The NWS office in Midland is responsible for issuing severe weather warnings and administering disaster preparedness for 17 counties in the south plains of west Texas and in one county in the extreme southeast corner of New Mexico (see Figure 3 ). Successful preparedness programs consist of both organizational and individual training and education. Organizational training in severe storm identification is necessary for an effective warning system, while individual education is essential to prepare citizens for severe weather conditions. Organizational activities are designed to encourage emergency operations plans, storm-reporting networks, and effective dissemination of warnings. While these activities are being conducted, individuals must be made aware of safety measures for self-protection. PUBLIC AWARENESS WEEK The NWS office in Midland and the local news media have drawn the public's attention to severe weather with “Severe Weather Awareness Week in the Permian Basin.” The second annual weather awareness event was held the week of February 22, 1987 (see Appendix C ). In conjunction with weather awareness week, the meteorologist in charge (MIC) in Midland sponsored a severe weather workshop for media representatives on February 12, 1987. Workshop participants also included emergency management and law enforcement agencies and amateur radio storm spotters. The workshop focused on improved understanding of the problems participants encountered during severe weather situations. During the workshop, public education material was distributed to the media. The workshop increased public awareness through numerous severe weather programs by Midland/Odessa radio and television stations. It also improved coordination of operational efforts among participants. Unfortunately, media representatives from small rural stations did not attend the workshop. Small staffs and low budgets often prohibit their participation.

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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO FIGURE 3 County warning area of WSO Midland, Texas.

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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO An example of the interest in public awareness is demonstrated by KOSA-TV, Channel 7. KOSA-TV has made available to viewers an 11 × 17 inch, double-sided, weather safety sheet. Included on the sheet are tornado, lightning, and severe thunderstorm safety rules; definitions of the terms tornado watch and tornado warning; and a description of weather symbol displays and weather “crawls” (messages broadcast along the bottom of the television screen) used during coverage on severe weather. STORM SPOTTER TRAINING Severe storm spotters are a first line of defense against severe weather, and spotter training has received much attention at the NWS office in Midland. During each of the past 3 years, NWS Midland preceded each severe weather season with spotter training in each county seat during the months of January, February, and March. Reeves County was no exception, with spotter training on March 6, 1985 (8 attendees); March 11, 1986 (49 attendees); and March 10, 1987 (26 attendees). The last meeting included officials from the Texas Highway Department, the Pecos and Monahans police departments, the Reeves County Sheriff's Department, teachers, and several concerned citizens. HAMFESTS In addition to county-by-county severe storm spotter training, each March the NWS office in Midland participates in a regional “hamfest ” with a spotter training session geared toward amateur (ham) radio operators. A hamfest is a gathering of amateur radio operators to swap equipment; discuss radio communications, equipment, and operating procedures; and meet other radio operators. Hamfests, particularly larger regional gatherings such as the one held in Midland, attract amateur radio operators from many miles around. A hamfest provides an excellent opportunity to train a geographically dispersed group of operators as volunteer severe storm spotters. In fact, the two amateur radio storm spotters who reported the rotating wall cloud on May 22 had taken part in several of these training sessions. The amateur radio operators of southwest Texas are a valuable resource for the NWS. These radio operators are usually called to action by the NWS Midland staff when severe weather is anticipated in the Permian Basin area. On the afternoon of May 22, the amateur radio operators were alerted by the NWS Midland office around 4:30 p.m. and opened their station at the NWS office at 4:50 p.m.

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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO The effectiveness of amateur radio operators in the Permian Basin is due in large part to a network of operators called the “West Texas Connection” (see Figure 4 ). “The Connection,” which is the brainchild of Jim Jeffries, an amateur radio operator from Odessa, is the name given to the interconnection of multiple amateur radio repeaters throughout the Permian Basin. A radio repeater allows amateurs to use their VHF-FM frequencies (144.00 to 148.00 MHz) beyond its normal line-of-sight limitation. Typically, a repeater on a tall tower or building will achieve a range of 50 miles. By connecting various repeaters to a hub repeater 5 miles south of Odessa, the ham radio operators have expanded their coverage to well over 200 miles. This is particularly valuable to the NWS office in Midland, where warning service must be provided for such a vast area. FIGURE 4 The “West Texas Connection.”

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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO No formal organization of amateurs exists for the entire Permian Basin, but the extent of aerial coverage delivered by “The Connection ” provides a cohesive mechanism for linking spotters. Whenever severe weather affects the Permian Basin area, amateurs report weather conditions through repeaters directly into the NWS office in Midland. Jeffries and those who assist him volunteer their time, equipment, and finances to maintain “The Connection.” SUMMARY Severe storm spotter training and severe weather preparedness are high-priority functions for the NWS's Midland office. The office works effectively with the local media, volunteer storm spotters, and area amateur radio operators who have constructed a vast communications network. All are invaluable resources in severe weather forecasting. The office is active in drawing public attention to severe weather threats and to safety measures designed to protect life.