After a missed snowstorm in August 2014 over Mount Whitney, the National Weather Service office in Hanford, CA recognized the need for a deeper relationship with Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. The challenges and specific impacts produced from this early season event, led to over two dozen Search and Rescues (SAR) performed by emergency personnel at the National Park Service (NPS). Over the past two years, our growing partnership has allowed the National Weather Service (NWS) in Hanford to better assist this core partner towards fulfilling similar missions. For example, the Impact Based Decision Support Services (IDSS) Media Team at NWS Hanford created an instructional video to educate NPS employees and leadership about the process of requesting a SAR Spot forecast. In addition, NWS Hanford staff members have provided on-site lectures at statewide California SAR meetings. Warning operations have also been enhanced, as shapefiles have been added to AWIPS which include tourist-heavy points of interests, major hiking trails, and burn scars. The resulting increased situational awareness of impactful weather events at these sites along the Sierra Nevada has contributed to the protection of life and property. These new endeavors were made possible by a paradigm shift in NWS Hanford’s working schedule, which spreads responsibilities through the staff during periods of benign weather or “green days”. NWS Hanford’s expansion of operational efficiency has inspired more than a dozen on-site training and collaboration sessions since 2014.
In 2015, NWS Hanford SAR Spot requests increased by 87% compared to the previous 6 years, due to more accurate and timely forecasts. The Emergency Services Program Manager at Yosemite National Park commented, “Forecast was dead on. Super impressed. Thanks for taking the time to get word to us about your program and capability. Looking forward to working with you more in the future.”
Additional work will focus on continued consultation with decision-makers at the NPS to determine impact-based criterion which can affect search and rescue operations, planning, and resource allocation. Through local research, improved modeling and collaboration, tools can be developed which best communicate risk in the perspective of these specific partners, and new weather elements can then be added to NWS Hanford’s SAR Spot product. The goal of the entire effort is to deliver information that clearly conveys impacts, as outlined in the National Weather Service Weather-Ready Nation Roadmap.