By Brian LaMarre
Warning Coordination Meteorologist
WFO Lubbock, TX
Picture from the Bronze Medal Award presentation.
Picture from the Bronze Medal Award presentation (Photograph by Sandy James). From left to right are: Vice Admiral Lautenbacher (Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator), Jody James (WFO Lubbock forecaster), Mark Conder (WFO Lubbock forecaster), and General D.L. Johnson (NWS Director).

The U.S. Department of Commerce has awarded its prestigious Bronze Medal to a group of forecasters from NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Forecast Office (WFO) in Lubbock, Texas. The forecasters are being recognized for their skill and expertise in forecasting the significant West Texas dust storms of December 15, 2003 and February 19, 2004.

Those events were two of the worst high wind/dust storms on record for West Texas. Each storm produced widespread wind gusts to near hurricane strength (peak winds were 67 mph and 63 mph, respectively). Blowing dust and near zero visibilities resulted in numerous auto accidents, including a multi-vehicle accident that resulted in two deaths and twelve injuries. High winds also toppled several eighteen-wheel trucks.

On both occasions, the impacts could have been much greater if not for the group's timely, accurate forecasting. The potential for high wind and blowing dust was included in WFO Lubbock's public forecast discussion four days in advance of the December storm. The winds and dust were included in forecast products several days in advance and a High Wind Warning was issued with 21 hours notice. Similar discussions also began four days in advance of the February storm. A watch was issued 32 hours in advance and a High Wind Warning was issued nine hours before the storm.

The award recipients include WFO Lubbock Senior Forecasters Robert Barritt, Jody James, Ronald McQueen, Martin Mullen; and, Forecasters Mark Conder, Shawn Ellis and William Hopkins. Their actions, during both events, received high praise from local emergency management officials and the media.

Following one of the storms, Garza County Constable Daniel Yarbro said, "They issued a High Wind Warning and the public was well aware of the approaching hazard. The National Weather Service office in Lubbock executed their mission to the fullest extent possible!" FOX34 Chief Meteorologist Bryan Hughes agreed. The Lubbock WFO played a critical role in getting the word out to our station and other media outlets in West Texas.

The award was presented today, Friday March 17, 2006, at a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. The Secretary of Commerce presents the Bronze Medal to Commerce Department offices and employees who have made outstanding or significant contributions in support of the overall departmental goals that serve the nation.

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