Cheney Free Press -

By JOHN McCALLUM
Managing Editor 

Being 'Storm Ready' is a well-kept local secret

 

Last updated 9/19/2019 at 9:37am

You may have noticed the signs. In Medical Lake, it’s on the side of City Hall.

In Cheney, it’s a bit more fleeting — a white sign posted below the yellow stoplight sign next to the southbound lane of State Route 904 north of Betz Road.

“Are you Storm Ready?” the sign asks in small letters, and seemingly answers with larger letter above “Storm Ready Community.”

So what does this mean?

“It’s ensuring that counties, communities and cities have a 24/7 point of contact so that the National Weather Service can interact with residents during hazardous weather events,” NWS warning coordination meteorologist Andy Brown said. “It’s a way to get every major jurisdiction to take proactive steps and be prepared for bad weather.”

Brown, stationed with other meteorologists at the NWS/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) site on Rambo Road northwest of Airway Heights, said the program began in the Plains states where weather can change often at the drop of a hat. It was expanded nationally as other jurisdictions took interest.

Originally, the program was offered on a voluntary basis to counties, cities and smaller communities, but eventually was limited to counties since many of them had larger emergency management organizations. Locally, that is now through the Greater Spokane Emergency Management department.

“I can see how they didn’t know about it because we’ve been only keeping up (the program) with county emergency managers,” Brown said.

Spokane County and all participating jurisdictions – including the three cities on the West Plains – became Storm Ready on Sept. 26, 2002. According to information from the NWS, it takes a “grassroots approach” to storm preparedness.

To be Storm Ready, a community must establish a 24-hour warming point and emergency operations center, have more than one way to receive severe weather warnings and forecasts to alert the public and create a system that monitors local weather conditions. It must also promote the importance of public readiness through community seminars and develop a formal hazardous weather plan.

The latter employs the use of weather spotters along with holding emergency exercises. Brown, who has been here since 2012, said they are always looking to recruit new weather spotters, with over 1,500 being used currently.

“A couple of years ago we had about 1,100,” he added.

Weather spotters are trained to observe and understand significant severe weather indicators, Brown said. Elements such as hail, heavy rain that impacts road conditions and travel along with winds that might cause tree limbs to fall are all part of the warning equation.

“That kind of information is critical to warning the next community,” Brown said. “It’s really important to have boots on the ground to report these situations.”

Storm Ready communities must be recertified as such every three years, helping to ensure preparedness. It’s something Brown said hopefully gives the average citizen reassurance that their leadership is being proactive on keeping the public informed while being ready to respond.

“Just like the name of this program, Storm Ready,” Brown said. “It means they’re ready to respond.”

Brown added that to find out more about what the local NWS station does, the public is invited to attend an open house from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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