Cheektowaga, the town that has seen seven-foot snowfalls as well as tornadoes, is now "StormReady," according to the National Weather Service.
That doesn't mean residents should start getting hurricane shutters and prepare for mud slides. But if those weather phenomena should strike Erie County's second largest town, emergency personnel and federal forecasters are ready.
"StormReady encourages communities to take a new proactive approach to improving local hazardous weather operations and public awareness," said Judith Levan, warning coordination meteorologist at the local National Weather Service forecast office.
Levan and Thomas Niziol, meteorologist in charge of the Buffalo office, presented the town a plaque and praised the training that town employees and some residents underwent. Cheektowaga is one of five municipalities in New York State to achieve the designation and joins about 1,200 communities nationwide. It is the only one in Western New York.
"Ninety percent of all presidentially declared disasters are weather-related," Levan said, adding that the StormReady programs gives communities the skills and education to survive weather before and during the event.
"It took one year and seven months to complete this application," said Earl Loder, Cheektowaga's emergency services coordinator.
To be recognized by the Weather Service as a StormReady community, the community must establish a 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center, have more than one way to receive severe weather forecasts and warnings and to alert the public, create a system that monitors local weather conditions, promote the importance of public readiness through community seminars, develop a formal hazardous weather plan that includes training weather spotters and conduct emergency exercises.
"Those efforts proved their worth a little over a year ago," Niziol said, recalling the June 30, 2006, tornado that carved a nearly five-mile long swath through the town.
The Weather Service had conducted training for Cheektowaga residents and town employees just one week before the tornado.
"It was one of those spotters who called in the first reports of the tornado," he said. "Within minutes of the event, our office was on the phone with the emergency management office in Cheektowaga, coordinating short term weather forecast information."