NEWPORT - As the National Hurricane Center in Miami alerts the entire country to tropical weather threats, responsibility moves to the Newport's National Weather Service Forecast Office when tropical trouble threatens our area.
Operational 24 hours a day, the forecast center shifted into high gear Friday, as forecasters projected Hurricane Isaac could threaten Coastal Carolina by the middle of next week.
Meteorologists at the Newport center are charged with having their eyes on the sky for emergency managers across the area. National Weather Service personnel provide each county in the area with localized instructions on how to respond to current and forecasted storm conditions.
"We issue special kinds of threat assessment briefings that we provide to [EMS teams] and we also put them on our website," said Meteorologist-in-Charge Rich Bandy in an interview Friday. "[The assessments] provide specific details for the local area on how the storm might affect us."
The Newport Forecast Office is the only local agency responsible for the crucial task of launching weather balloons, making predictions more reliable.
"We normally launch balloons two times a day," Bandy said. "We'll start launching them four times a day to get more information, feed data into those models, and make them more accurate."
Besides emergency management teams, Bandy said his office reaches out to members of the public who need help making cancellation decisions when tropical weather threatens.
"We talk to superintendents when they're trying to make decisions about whether to close or open schools. There's a lot of people out there who need weather information and help understanding it. That's what we're here for."
If a major storm system bears down, at least eight people will be on duty - for hours if not days.
"We bring cots in because we've got extra staffing," Bandy said. "We're prepared to hunker down here through the duration of the storm."
The Newport office also collects data from members of the public, in order to increase prediction accuracy.
Free rain gauges are distributed, and individuals report precipitation data from their homes daily. The program is known as the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, known as CoCoRaHS.
Volunteers are trained by NWS professionals, and can sign up for the program by visiting www.cocorahs.org.
The Forecast Office is found at 533 Roberts Road, Newport, N.C. near Highway 70 East.