EPWater, National Weather Service to join forces

EPWater, National Weather Service to join forces
Posted on 07/18/2022
Jason Laney (top left), Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the El Paso National Weather Service office, spoke to El Paso Water employees about various types of severe weather hazards

After decades of wrangling with severe weather in the El Paso area, El Paso Water and the National Weather Service want to work together.

EPWater staff members recently underwent “spotter” training to learn more about the types of severe weather seen across El Paso. This type of training raises safety awareness, said Emergency Management Specialist Mathew Taberski, who is a certified Skywarn for the National Weather Service and helped organize the collaboration.  

“It’s about protecting life and property,” said Jason Laney, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the El Paso National Weather Service office. “A lot of times, we are not boots on the ground, and we are not the eyes and ears. We are training the public. I have got the radar and I see that rain coming down, but you guys are working mitigation and the response when there is flooding,”

Building a working relationship

The National Weather Service is building a Weather Ready Nation, which is a ready, responsive and resilient community, Laney said. EPWater, with its large staff and reach in the community, could further that mission, he said.

“You guys see a lot we don’t,” Laney said. “Sometimes we see stuff, and we don’t even realize that you are out there in harm’s way. We want to make sure word gets to you, as well from a safety standpoint.”

From engineering to Stormwater Management staff, EPWater employees learned about the risks and dynamics associated with the region’s most severe weather, such as severe thunderstorms, flash flooding and downbursts. Downbursts can carry winds in excess of 100 mph in all directions.

Laney noted that EPWater’s successful advances in stormwater infrastructure have impacted the National Weather Service’s work locally. EPWater has made significant improvements to public safety since taking over the stormwater utility in 2008.

“It used to be when we saw a thunderstorm over the interstate, we immediately issued a flash-flood warning because we knew the interstate was going under water,” said Laney of the period before EPWater completed high-profile improvements, including the Gateway Ponds project. Now, EPWater can capture over 100 million gallons of stormwater that otherwise could flood I-10, city streets, homes and businesses. “That’s why I want to stay in contact with you guys at El Paso Water.”

Going forward

Jason Laney, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the El Paso National Weather Service office, spoke to EPWater employees about keeping in touch with the National Weather Service while working mitigation and response during flooding events, such as this one in the Ojo de Agua Channel in 2021. After hearing Laney’s forecast for another busy monsoon season, EPWater employees ended training feeling they had a better grasp on the area’s severe weather threats.

“Knowing the difference about what makes a severe thunderstorm is going to help,” said Jesus Rodriguez, Operations Assistant. “That’s important, so we have an idea of what to expect in terms of the amount of rain and the possible damage. That plays a big role in what we might expect for blocked drainages.”

Chief Operations Officer Martin Noriega agreed EPWater could benefit from communication with the National Weather Service. Shared information will benefit both organizations and the community overall, he said.

“The communication will make a difference – knowing who we can call if we need to,” Noriega said. “The difference is that now we have an outlet.”

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