BUCKHANNON – Rainstorms, snowstorms and windstorms strike whether local residents are ready or not for inclement weather, but on Thursday, Upshur County learned it had been officially deemed ‘StormReady’ via a National Weather Service initiative.
Tony Edwards, the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, announced Upshur County’s newly attained StormReady status at the Upshur County Commission’s Jan. 5, 2023, meeting.
According to the National Weather Service, the StormReady program equips cities and counties “with the communication and safety skills needed to save lives and property – before, during and after the severe weather event.”
In essence, a StormReady designation assists community leaders and emergency/disaster preparedness and response managers in their duties of enhancing local safety programs so people are better prepared to cope with both expected and unanticipated weather events.
“I just want to talk a little about the StormReady designation that you all have earned in Upshur County,” Edwards said at the commission’s Jan. 5 meeting. “The StormReady designation is basically a designation program that shows that the county has done their part in reducing, number one, the redundancy in the way that the county receives severe weather information and [communicates that] back out to the county to its residents.”
“Also, there’s an extra level of weather monitoring, so that you all are more situationally aware when severe weather strikes so that you can keep the citizens situationally aware,” he added.
Edwards told commissioners Upshur County Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Steve Wykoff had approached the National Weather Service in Charleston about earning StormReady status soon after he had accepted the DHSEM director position in 2022.
“He wanted to achieve the designation and really, you all were 90 percent there already through the hard work of the commission and emergency management officials,” Edwards said, “but you have gone a little bit above what StormReady calls for.”
That’s due to a relatively newly installed gauge in the Buckhannon River.
“One of the things we’re working on, kind of tangentially to the StormReady [status designation] I’m holding in my hand is making the river gauge located in the Buckhannon River a full forecast point,” Edwards said. “So, right now, it’s just observations and then in periods of high water, we can produce a forecast. Once that is a full forecast location, you’ll have forecasts for Buckhannon 24/7, 365, and there will be a lot better science involved in creating that forecast, so you all will have a better product in the end when flooding does threaten those areas.”
Edwards also noted Wykoff had been instrumental in facilitating the installation of a weather station at the Emergency Operations Center and the Upshur County E911 Communication Center on Amalia Drive.
“That’s really important,” he said. “If you all have a HAZMAT incident in the area, the more local weather information we have to generate our forecasts off of, it just produces a better forecast of maybe where that plume’s going to go or how that’s going to impact your citizens, so having that local information is good for us as well. All of this is part of the StormReady process. It’s mainly just getting us more involved as weather service with emergency management, and then making your citizens more aware and prepared and resilient to severe weather.”
Edwards said he would provide the commission with a sign, and they could use the design to post other signs around the county to draw attention to Upshur’s new StormReady status, which will last for four years.
“The designation is good for four years and then we will reassess after four years and touch base and make sure everything’s good,” he explained. “One of the things that we did that I also forgot to mention was Director (Steve) Wykoff has ensured all the schools are able to receive severe weather information – there’s some redundancy there – so after four years we’ll reassess to make sure we’re good to go there.”
Edwards said one key benefit of attaining StormReady status is that some residents’ flood insurance rates could potentially decrease.
“One of the benefits in addition to the good PR and the great work that’s been done there to improve severe weather reports is that you all can receive some additional points towards your community rating system,” he explained. “So, the way that works is you can get reduced cost on your flood insurance and so on and so forth based on the number of points that you have in the CRM system, so that’s one of the benefits, but in general, I really appreciate all that work that’s been done. I really appreciate all the resources that have been given, and yeah, I just think Upshur County is more prepared now than it’s ever been and we look forward to working with Director Wykoff and Deputy Director Long and the Commission.”
Commissioner Sam Nolte commended Wykoff and Long on the jobs they’ve done as Upshur DHSEM director and Upshur DHSEM Deputy Director respectively, and Commissioner Doug Bush concurred.
“You’re being very proactive, which we appreciate,” Bush said.