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NWS Dedicates New Hurricane Resistant Weather Forecast Office
in Key West, Fla.

NWS Southern Region Director Bill Proenza addresses visitors during Key West forecast office dedication ceremony. Seated at speakers table are (L to R): Monroe County Mayor Charles McCoy; Capt. James K. Scholl, CO, NAS Key West; Shelley Miklas, Congressional Aid to Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Matt Strahan, meteorologist-in-charge, NWS Key West; Thaddeus L. Cohen, secretary, Florida Dept. of Community Affairs; Billy Wagner, senior director, Monroe Co. Emergency Mgmt.; and, Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson

(March 20, 2006) -- NOAA's National Weather Service dedicated today a new, hurricane-resistant weather forecast office in Key West, Fla. State and local officials were also on hand to mark the milestone event and to help release the first weather balloon from the office's unique, three story launch tower.

Constructed with a combination of concrete, reinforcing steel and hurricane impact-resistant glass, the new facility was built to withstand sustained winds of 165 mph. The interior contains an additional concrete structure designed to serve as a Severe Weather Occupancy Shelter to protect against winds up to 250 mph. It is located approximately a half-mile from shore and six-and-a-half feet above sea level. The interior floors are an additional seven feet above the grade for a combined height of 13.5 feet above sea level, which is 2.5 feet above the anticipated storm tide of a Category 5 hurricane.

"The past two years have demonstrated how devastating the hurricane season can be for Florida and the potentially dire conditions National Weather Service employees must endure to conduct their mission of protecting residents," said Bill Proenza, director of the National Weather Service Southern Region.

Early in the morning of October 23, 2005, the new weather forecast office faced its first real challenge as the eye of Hurricane Wilma passed just 70 miles north of the Keys at Category 3 intensity. While it wasn't a worst case scenario, Hurricane Wilma battered Key West with wind gusts in excess of 100 mph and a six-foot storm surge. However, office staff, family members and key emergency management personnel were safely sheltered in the new weather forecast office building. "The facility provided additional peace of mind for the staff and family members who stayed there," said Matt Strahan, meteorologist-in-charge of the Key West weather forecast office.

Key West is one of 122 forecast offices in the United States and one of 32 serving the Southern Region. It is responsible for providing weather, hydrologic and climate forecasts and warnings from Key West to Ocean Reef, portions of the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Straits. According to U.S. Department of Commerce estimates, about 40 percent of the world's shipping passes through the waters covered by the forecasts and warnings issued by the Key West office.

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