WFO Northern Indiana Presented with Prestigious Department of Commerce Gold Medal Award
contributed by Senior Meteorologist Sam Lashley

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) forecast office in Northern Indiana was recently selected as a 2003 recipient of the U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal organizational award for tornado warnings issued on Nov. 10, 2002, for the F-4 tornado that hit Van Wert, Ohio.  The Gold Medal is the most distinguished employee organizational award, presented annually by the Commerce Department.  NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce.

On December 5th, 2003, Meteorologist-In-Charge Mike Sabones and Senior Meteorologist Sam Lashley attended an awards ceremony at the U.S. Department of Commerce building in Washington, D.C.  Mr. Sabones accepted the award from the Honorable Samuel W. Bodman, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Commerce. Also presenting the award was Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator, Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., U.S. Navy (Ret.). 

The Northern Indiana staff took actions to provide early and accurate warnings to the public of a devastating tornado well before it touched down in Van Wert County and other areas in the path of the storm. Nationwide media attention focused on the most dramatic result, which occurred at the Van Wert Cinemas.  Acting on a local warning rebroadcast over the county’s warning system, the theater’s assistant manager was able to lead 60 patrons to more secure inside hallways and restrooms minutes before the tornado struck.  Everyone survived where dozens would have certainly died when the powerful tornado struck the complex, tossing three cars from the parking lot into seats previously occupied by youngsters and their parents watching The Santa Clause 2.

The Van Wert tornado was one of 76 that hit 17 states from the Mississippi Valley to the Atlantic Coast and from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes Nov. 9-11, 2002.  Twelve of those tornadoes killed 36 people in five states.  Of four tornadoes that touched down in the Northern Indiana forecast office’s area of responsibility, only the long-tracked tornado that went through Van Wert resulted in fatalities – two in Van Wert and two in Putnam County, Ohio.

Area emergency managers, media and the public credited the office’s timely and accurate tornado warnings for saving countless lives in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio.  An e-mail received at the office after the tornado outbreak noted: “If it wasn’t for you folks doing your job right, people alive right now wouldn’t be ... people who would have been grieving now are together giving hugs and kisses and looking forward to bright futures.”

“Years of planning and preparation by the staff here paid off for residents of northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio on Nov. 10, 2002,” said Mike Sabones, meteorologist in charge at the Northern Indiana weather forecast office.  “It took close coordination with emergency managers and media to keep people as safe as possible during an incredibly menacing situation.  All the people involved did their best that day and we’re proud to have been part of it.”

Meteorologist-in-Charge Mike Sabones and Senior Meteorologist Sam Lashley proudly show off the Gold Medal award in the Northern Indiana office's lobby.
WFO Northern Indiana's Gold Medal Award
Ruined cars rest in seats occupied moments earlier by children watching a matinee at Van Wert Cinemas.

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