Charles M. Baker, a lead forecaster at
the NOAA National Weather Service forecast office in Riverton, Wyo., has
been selected as a 2003 recipient of the U.S. Department of Commerce
Gold Medal for actions during the Daley Wildfire Complex in June 2002.
Scheduled for presentation at a Sept. 18th awards ceremony in
Washington, D.C., the Gold Medal is the most distinguished employee
award presented annually by the Commerce Department. NOAA is part of
the Department of Commerce.
Baker teamed with fellow forecasters
Andrew J. Bailey and Eric Helgeson at the Rapid City, S.D., forecast
office in providing forecast information that directly saved the lives
of some 40 firefighters the evening of June 29, 2002.
Diligently watching developments of
wild fires and weather conditions in an area of northeast Wyoming
covered by the two NOAA Weather Service offices, Baker and the Rapid
City forecasters simultaneously realized the perils posed by an
approaching cold front. The weather forecasters realized thunderstorms
along the cold front had produced an outflow boundary that extended well
ahead of the front. Surface observations from the area indicated the
front would arrive earlier and with much stronger winds than previously
anticipated, with a drastic shift in wind direction.
Baker and the Rapid City crew
contacted dispatcher Trina Reid at the Casper Dispatch Center with the
new information, providing her with crucial information about the
earlier arrival and higher winds and wind shift accompanying the cold
front. Reid immediately
radioed incident commanders in the area to send their firefighting crews
to safety zones because a dramatic change in wind speed and direction
would occur within 10 minutes. All the incident commanders heeded the
warning, disengaged firefighting crews and moved them to safety zones.
Within minutes of 40 firefighters reaching the
safety zones, winds increased from 20 mph to 70 mph and switched direction 180
degrees. According to U.S. Forest Service reports, flames ran through three
miles of tinder-dry ponderosa pine, juniper, sagebrush and grass in less than
Campbell County Fire Department Incident Commander Rich Hauber said,
those meteorologists hadn't
been on the ball, and if Trina hadn't
received that call and made an immediate radio transmission, none of us would be
here today. None of us could have escaped the awesome power of that fire.
Eric and Andy exhibited great situational awareness in a vital National Weather
Joe Sullivan, meteorologist in charge of the Riverton forecast office said.
experience and attention to detail was directly responsible for saving 40
lives. You can't
do better than that.
NOAA's National Weather Service is the primary
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