Tuesday, 9 January 2018: 2:45 PM
Ballroom D (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
The combination of staff training and preparation with core partners, technical upgrades, and streamlining of tropical operations in the months leading up to Hurricane Irma, along with an “all hands on deck” approach with desk staffing and delegation of duties, resulted in seamless operations, consistent messaging and critical support to core partners before, during, and after the impact of Hurricane Irma on the Florida Keys. The uniqueness of WFO Key West’s category 5 hardened facility enabled forecasters to remain on duty through the storm and in the days following it. The office greatly increased its messaging reach through widely seen social media posts, and a large number of national and international media interviews. The WFO Key West facility is in the middle of Key West: hardened to withstand Category 5 wind gusts, and includes a safe room tested to survive gusts of 250 mph or higher and an elevated floor base to keep the facility well above surge flooding. In the months prior to Hurricane Irma, meteorologists at WFO Key West participated in numerous hurricane preparedness presentations and exercises with core partners in the Keys. In April 2017, meteorologists at the office participated in a simulation of a major hurricane impacting the Keys, which included core partner participation. In May and June 2017 several tropical workshops were held to train office staff on changes to the NWS tropical program. The office staff also took lessons learned from Hurricane Matthew the year before and spent a considerable amount of time streamlining operational instructions and technical scripts in the months prior to Irma. In the days prior to the storm it was “all hands on deck” approach to operations. The office ran either six or seven operational desks both day and night, with clear roles set on each desk which included one desk fully dedicated to coordination and one desk (and sometimes a second) fully dedicated to social media. The coordinator utilized regularly updated talking points and the DSS coordinator at the National Hurricane Center to keep messaging strong, consistent, and well-coordinated through all levels in the NWS. The Warning Coordination Meteorologist deployed on site at the Monroe County EOC beginning a few days prior to the impact of the storm, and remained there until several days after the storm. The office maintained full operations all the way through the passage of the core of Hurricane Irma through the Florida Keys, including the arrival of the eyewall and its impacts. WFO San Antonio (followed by WFO Miami) provided service backup for Key West for a few days following the storm. However, WFO Key West remained a critical hub for decision support activities this period. The office had three phone lines that never went down after the storm. Key West City Hall is located across the street and Federal, state, and local officials (including both the mayor and city manager of Key West) would come over to the office several times a day in the days following the storm to get weather updates and participate in county coordination meetings and conference calls to make critical decisions. This face to face collaboration was critical to support core partner decisions such as when to reopen the Keys to residents, when to open the airports, power and water restoration, and where resources needed to be focused the most in the hardest hit areas. Management at WFO Key West stayed in close contact with both regional and national HQ in the NWS to keep leadership updated on office status and to coordinate the arrival of supplies and facility repairs following the storm. The reach of WFO Key West’s social media magnified during Hurricane Irma. A single tweet issued from the office on September 8, the day prior to the storm, had an audience reach of 13.2 million. Following the storm, the office’s Twitter account reached over 57,000 followers, vaulting WFO Key West to third overall in terms of number of followers for all offices in the NWS. WFO Key West participated in numerous international, national, and regional media interviews including all of the major U.S. networks, and networks in Canada, the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand among others.
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