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The effectiveness of actions taken by National Weather Service (NWS) offices during a
stressful event such as this one is only as good as the proficiency of the office personnel
in utilizing available technologies to monitor weather conditions, detect hazardous
storms, and issue timely and accurate forecasts and warnings.
The NWS's preparedness program goes beyond just the issuance of warnings to reduce
the loss of life and property resulting from hazardous weather events. Preparedness
programs consist of activities other than internal staff readiness. These activities
include coordinating with public safety officials to ensure good communications;
organizing and training observers; identifying areas prone to weather hazards such as
river and flash flooding; and making the public and media more aware of hazardous
weather through outreach and educational programs. Preparedness programs are only
as good as the initiative taken by local NWS offices to conduct effective outreach and
4.2 OFFICE PREPAREDNESS
A well-written and up-to-date Station Duty Manual (SDM), forecast reference guides,
contact/coordination lists, detailed maps and realistic operational drills are some of the
critical ingredients for internal preparedness. All office SDMs were up to date and
provided the staff with specific information concerning office operations and actions
during both river and flash flood events. All SDMs, along with NWS Form E-19s,
depict flood-prone and flood inundation areas.
Specific hydrologic drills had been accomplished by all offices to ensure all office
personnel were trained to handle any type of flooding. Most drills had been completed
within the past 6 months. Hydrologic service drills and staff training are usually
conducted by the Service Hydrologist and Warning Coordination Meteorologist.
Coordinated River Forecast Center hydrologic drills have not been attempted from
impacted RFCs, but should be in the future.
In most midwestern and eastern states, the preparedness efforts have focused on severe
thunderstorm and tornado events. In recent years, however, many states have adopted
an annual flood and flash flood awareness week or day. Also, with the many recent
flood and flash flood deaths, the NWS has increased its outreach effort to educate the
public on hydrologic dangers.
All offices are staffed with WCMs who are responsible for ensuring all staff members
are trained, drilled, and prepared in handling all types of hazardous weather events.
The WCM also provides hazardous weather preparedness interface between the office
and all communities within the office's County Warning and Forecast Area (CWFA) of
responsibility. Annually, the WCM should visit all county and city emergency
managers and discuss ways to mitigate hazardous weather events. County and
statewide drills should also be organized and coordinated by the WCM with state and
local emergency management officials and the media to ensure all communication
systems work correctly and that appropriate safety actions are carried out by local
communities, schools, hospitals, businesses, the media, etc.
During the past year, numerous outreach activities and hazardous weather training were
provided by Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) Weather Service Forecast
Offices (NWSFO) in Baltimore, Maryland/Washington, DC; Philadelphia and
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Charleston, West Virginia; and by NEXRAD Weather
Service Offices (NWSO) in Binghamton, New York; State College, Pennsylvania; and
Wilmington, Ohio. All offices have an excellent line of communication with County
Warning Area (CWA) media and emergency management and other public safety
officials. During this flood event, several spotter groups were activated due to the
possibility of severe weather Friday morning, but they were also used to report flood
conditions and precipitation amounts.
Since flooding is a prime concern by residents of central New York, the NWSO in
Binghamton, New York, enlists volunteers to provide rainfall measurements using low-
cost rain gages and to measure snowfall and water equivalent. Some of these personnel
are part of the SKYWARN program and report their data through a CWA amateur
radio computer packet system. Along with the automatic and cooperative observer
reports, this group of volunteers provides an invaluable service of filling data-void
areas with reliable information. This group performs another function during the
winter by providing snowfall amounts to the Binghamton office. This information is
being used as part of a much larger lake effect snow study program.
Concerning public user response, most of the public heeded the warnings that were
issued and evacuated their homes when requested to do so by public safety officials.
However, several of the deaths related to the flooding were caused by failure to obey
barricades that had been erected to close water-covered and impassable roads. In
several situations, fire personnel were placed at risk saving people from swollen
streams or rivers where citizens ignored the barricades. After several instances of the
public not obeying the signs warning them of an impassable area, one community
placed a police officer at a barricade to issue tickets. During his watch, he wrote over
In New York, Steuben and Chemung counties have joined together since 1981 to
establish the Flood Warning Service (FWS) for the Chemung basin as part of a
nonprofit corporation to coordinate the emergency Flood Warning resources of local,
county, state, Federal, industry, and volunteer organizations that service the basin.
The FWS is funded by local municipalities. The NWS has supported this program's
development since its inception. The FWS has made major contributions toward
improving weather and Flood Warning services including establishing an Automated
Local Evaluation in Real Time (ALERT) gaging network, creating a flood operations
center staffed by trained volunteers, establishing a self-sufficient volunteer training
program, encouraging local municipalities to participate in the Community Rating
System of the National Flood Insurance Program, implementing a School Radio
Warning System to rapidly disseminate warnings to all schools, and upgrading
equipment and sites to improve SKYWARN communications. All data and forecasts
are coordinated and shared with NWSO Binghamton and other government agencies.
During the flood, valuable information of flood conditions and rainfall was provided to
NWSO Binghamton by the FWS.
4.3 SUSQUEHANNA RIVER BASIN COMMISSION
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) is the governing water resources
management agency established under a 100-year compact signed on December 24,
1970, by the Federal government and the States of New York, Pennsylvania, and
Maryland. The Susquehanna River starts in Cooperstown, New York, and flows 444
miles to Havre de Grace, Maryland, where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay. In
creating the SRBC, Congress and state legislatures formally recognized the water
resources of the Susquehanna River basin as a regional asset vested with local, state,
and national interests for which all the parties share responsibility. As the single
Federal-Interstate water resources agency with basin wide authority, the goal of the
SRBC is to effect coordinated planning, conservation, management, utilization,
development, and control of basin water resources among government and private
One of the roles of the SRBC is to manage and coordinate the Susquehanna River Basin
Flood Forecast and Warning System, which is an enhancement of the NWS Flood
Forecast and Warning System for the Susquehanna River basin. Numerous
improvements to the existing Susquehanna River Basin Flood Forecast and Warning
System were initiated after the devastating floods of Hurricanes Agnes in 1972 and
Eloise in 1975. SRBC coordinates the inter-agency task group that maintains and
updates the system's capabilities and annually seeks adequate funds on behalf of the
NWS and the USGS who operate the system.
Originally, the enhancement was funded as a Congressional add-on in fiscal year 1986,
and was set to zero in the President's budget each subsequent budget cycle. After
being restored by Congressional action for fiscal years 1987-1993, the fiscal year 1994
President's budget included partial funding for this initiative at $669K, about one-half
of the overall requirement for full service operations. In fiscal year 1994, Congress
restored funding up to $900K, and USGS and NWS operated the system at essentially
the full service level by absorbing the additional cost. In fiscal year 1995, Congress
restored funding to the level of $1,250K, and again the system was operated at the full
service level. In fiscal year 1996, the President's budget included $669K for this
purpose, again approximately half of the cost for full service operations. The House
mark included additional support for a total of $1,250K, but the Senate provided a
funding level of $669K which was adopted in the conference mark and is the basis for
project planning by the participants.
During the January floods, the SRBC provided enhanced coordination with users
before, during, and after the event. Before the event started, the SRBC worked with
local users and media to coordinate expected impacts from the forecasted event.
During the event, the SRBC provided briefings to the media to update the public as to
the impacts from the flooding. The SRBC also coordinated quite closely with industrial
users and the City of Harrisburg to determine the impacts of NWS forecasts on the
Susquehanna River basin and Harrisburg.
The most important contribution from the SRBC came after the January floods when
the SRBC worked very closely with local users, and state and Federal legislators, to
review impacts of the flood, define impacts of the proposed budget cuts on operations,
and provide recommendations to improve the enhanced Flood Forecast and Warning
System. Specifically, the SRBC went directly to the Nation's Capital to build support
for the Flood Forecast and Warning System.
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