For providing life saving weather warnings and other services during an outbreak of tornadoes, large hail and killer flash flooding on March 22, 2000.
During an outbreak of tornadic severe thunderstorms and subsequent heavy rains and flash flooding across the central and eastern Permian Basin of West Texas on March 22, 2000, the staff of the NWS Weather Forecast Office in Midland/Odessa, Texas, demonstrated dedication to duty and skill in using state of the art technology to provide critical weather warning and forecast services, and conducted an aggressive weather preparedness program to educate the public on methods to protect themselves during severe weather. As a result, even though a record eleven confirmed early-season tornadoes, including one violent tornado, ravaged the central and eastern portion of the Permian Basin of West Texas between 3 PM and 11 PM that evening, and record flash flooding across this same area persisted through 2 AM the next morning, many lives were saved as citizens took appropriate protective actions based on the warnings being issued by the Midland/Odessa office.
The National Weather Service office in Midland/Odessa, Texas, is recognized for forecast and warning services provided during and prior to an outbreak of severe weather and tornadoes which struck Upton, Howard, Glasscock and Reagan counties of West Texas on March 22, 2000. The actions of the NWS office have been credited with saving lives during this severe weather event. Furthermore, the contributions of the Midland/Odessa office specifically relate to performance measures cited in Item 1.1 of the NWS Strategic Plan: Public Services. Increase the accuracy and timeliness of NWS warnings, specifically reducing the national average tornado warning false alarm rate, increasing flash-flood warning lead times, Flood Forecasting and Water Management Improving the accuracy and lead time of hydrological forecasts and the relevance of products.
The potential for severe weather, including tornadoes, was included in NWS forecast products as much as 36 hours prior to the outbreak on March 22. This long-lead forecast of severe weather was significant by itself climatologically, as the total number of severe thunderstorms for March, over the 30-year period 1955-1994, total less than one hundred (A Severe Weather Climatology for the NWSO Midland, Texas, County Warning Area, NOAA Tech. Memorandum NWS SR-191, June 1997), and that the West Texas area was currently witnessing its worst drought in history. On the day of the tornadoes and subsequent killer flash flooding, the Midland/Odessa Weather Forecast Office highlighted the possibility of severe storms in the public forecast products during the early morning hours, including a special Thunderstorm Outlook issued at 5 AM on March 22. Subsequent products issued by the office, including an updated Thunderstorm Outlook issued at 12:15 PM, emphasized the increasing threat of severe storms and specifically mentioned the threat of large hail, damaging winds, a few tornadoes, and the added concern of flash flooding. Based on coordination with the Midland/Odessa Weather Forecast Office, at 1 PM, the Storm Prediction Center issued a Tornado Watch for West Texas which included the headline. This is a Particularly Dangerous Situation (PDS). This PDS Tornado Watch was subsequently twice extended, at 6:16 PM and at 11:33 PM covering the same area of West Texas.
The Midland/Odessa Weather Forecast Office issued the first tornado warning at 2:59 PM CST. The Midland WSR-88D radar indicated another tornadic thunderstorm to the southwest of the original tornado and a second tornado warning was issued at 3:15 PM. Between 2:59 PM and 12:50 AM the next morning, the staff of NWSO Midland/Odessa, Texas, issued 32 tornado warnings, 48 severe thunderstorm warnings, and 38 flash flood warnings (total of 118 severe storm warnings) as numerous severe thunderstorms and tornadoes repeatedly developed and moved northeast across the same ten county area of West Texas for ten hours.
The average lead time for the eleven confirmed tornadoes was 13 minutes and the lead time on the most violent tornado of 18 minutes. This lead time enabled people to receive the warning, phone their neighbors alerting them of the impending danger, and take measures to protect themselves. Warning services reflected the staff's commitment to maintaining topnotch severe weather knowledge and radar data interpretation skills; to the staff's skill in properly using the NWS modernized equipment, especially the Doppler radar (WSR-88D) and the AWIPS, and to the office's dedication to ensuring the existence of a well-trained and widespread storm spotter network.
In addition to the warning service, the Midland/Odessa Weather Forecast Office issued over 30 statements providing critical follow-up information on the warnings and the impending transition from tornadoes and large hail to flash flooding. Based on radar precipitation estimates exceeding eight inches of rain, flash flood warnings were later followed by 12 river flood warnings and statements as river flooding of the upper portion of the Colorado River in Colorado City reached record levels. Products were transmitted via the NOAA Weather Wire, NOAA Weather Radio, the NWS Family of Services, the Emergency Activation System (EAS), the Emergency Managers Weather Information Network (EMWIN), the Midland County emergency paging system, the amateur radio network operating in the area, and through the Internet. And via an effective partnership arrangement, the critical information was subsequently retransmitted by local television and radio stations.
The fact that so few people lost their lives can be attributed not only due to the fact that this tornado and large hail outbreak and subsequent flash flooding affected mainly rural areas, and not only to the excellent warning service provided, but to the equally effective response of those residents that were affected, the various county emergency managers, and the media as the event unfolded. The Midland/Odessa Weather Forecast Office had partnered with local emergency managers and local media in conducting an aggressive preparedness campaign, including promotion of the Thunder Bucket to school and civil groups, conducting numerous spotter training classes, public safety presentations, staffing information booths and public functions and events, conducting numerous office tours, coordinating with local emergency planning committees, and volunteer work with local amateur radio clubs and the American Red Cross. As a result of this effective public-private partnership, Midland/Odessa NOAA Weather Radio in conjunction with area radio and television stations aggressively communicated NWS warnings and statements, and included additional real-time coverage and spotter reports as the tornadoes moved through the West Texas area.