NOAA WEATHER FORECAST OFFICES AND OPERATIONS IN THE LINE OF FIRE
July 20, 2006 — As most of the country sweltered from temperatures in the 90-100 degree range and 64 wildfires burned in 14 states, grass fires in Nebraska and South Dakota had direct impact on NOAA National Weather Service operations. (Click NOAA image for larger view of grass fire in Rapid City, S.D., that sent wind-whipped flames racing up a hill toward the NOAA National Weather Service forecast office and burned within 30 feet of the building. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
Tree limbs rubbing against electrical lines started a fire last Sunday near Valentine, Neb. The fire eventually spread to 2,000-3,000 acres and knocked out a communications antenna used by NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards and Nebraska Educational TV transmissions, according to Nebraska Emergency Management. The fire caused the collapse of the communications tower, burned the adjacent equipment building and caused a propane tank to explode, a NEMA report said. NOAA communications technicians are trying to locate a new tower location and have ordered a new transmitter to be installed as soon as possible.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire had been contained, but was still burning with hot spots still causing concern, according to reports. The high temperature in Valentine Wednesday was in the upper 90s, and the forecast calls for Thursday's high to be around 91 degrees. Humidity is expected to be as low as 20 percent. Most of central Nebraska remains under a Red Flag Warning with extremely high fire danger, according to the forecast by the NOAA North Platte weather forecast office. (Click NOAA image for larger view of destroyed transmitter tower near Valentine, Neb., for the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards station. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
In Rapid City, a small grass fire started early Tuesday afternoon and swept past the NOAA forecast office and upper air building at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. NOAA employees were forced to evacuate the office for more than two hours Tuesday on the advice of the Rapid City Fire Department. Employees were able to shut down operating systems and remove critical elements prior to the evacuation. The NOAA National Weather Service forecast office in North Platte, Neb., provided service back-up during the evacuation.
Although temperatures topped 122 degrees as the fire swept by a few yards from the office and upper air building, NOAA and contract personnel were not in immediate danger, according to Meteorologist in Charge David Carpenter. "There were no injuries and no property damage," Carpenter said. (Click NOAA image for larger view of airplane dropping fire retardant on hillside grass fire in Rapid City, S.D., that burned within ten yards of the NOAA National Weather Service forecast office. Employees were forced to evacuate for a short time. No one was hurt, and no structure was damaged. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
"Situations like these demonstrate that we are not immune from the effects of weather extremes," NOAA National Weather Service Central Region Services Division Chief Mike Looney said from his Kansas City office. "We're grateful nobody was hurt and no equipment was damaged. At least our offices were able to demonstrate, again, that our emergency back-up procedures work well. (Click NOAA image for larger view of destroyed homes near Valentine, Neb., where a wildfire began in a canyon and moved toward the city. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
"Rapid City staff members remained calm and secured the building well in a hectic situation and the folks at North Platte did an outstanding job of covering developments in Valentine and Rapid City. Our safety procedures also worked well."
Looney said a break of at least a couple of days is expected soon from the heat that has blanketed the nation and turned grass, shrubs and trees into potential kindling. Still, he said, the threat from the many wildfires in the western half of the country remains serious.
The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported 64 major fires burning July 19. Fourteen fires burned in California, 13 in Montana, seven in Utah six in Arizona and five in Wyoming. Fires also burned in Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Washington. (Click NOAA image for larger view of hillside grass fire in Rapid City, S.D., that burned within 30 feet of the NOAA National Weather Service forecast office forcing employees to evacuate the building for a short time. There were no injuries or damage. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
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