National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

By: Tim Troutman, WFO Riverton

So many times involving extreme weather, we only hear about events that cause injuries and fatalities, the bad and the ugly, but not times when there were good decisions made and good outcomes. On August 18, 2018, the latter happened in Thermopolis, Wyoming. At around 345 PM MDT that Saturday afternoon, the National Weather Service local office in Riverton, WY, issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Hot Springs County, which included Thermopolis, where a demolition derby was soon to start. Meri Ann Rush, the Thermopolis-Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, was serving as the event organizer. NWS Riverton issued the warning via wireless emergency alerts (WEA), NOAA Weather Radio and also confirmed notification by phone to Hot Springs County Emergency Management. The County EM contacted Ms. Rush who, as a Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador, knew the dangers and appropriate actions, and took immediate action by opening a nearby fair building to be opened as a shelter. 

Meri Ann made the timely and accurate decision to evacuate the area via the PA speaker system that “everyone must leave the stands and you are urged to return to your vehicles or take shelter in the fair building until this storm passes.” Hundreds of patrons emptied the stands and moved out of the demolition derby stands and moved to the safer fair building, which was utilized as a shelter from the storm. By 430 PM MDT, the severe storm struck the fairgrounds with winds approaching 60 mph, moderate sized hail and frequent lightning strikes. Hot Springs County Emergency Management Coordinator, Bill Gordon, stated that, “Our Weather-Ready Nation initiative will protect lives only if the recipient of the threat information is willing to act. Meri Ann stepped up as I have not seen in my 18 years in this job. She did not hesitate, she acted on the information she was given and 500-600 people’s lives were safer for it.”

Meri Ann Rush’s collaboration as a Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador with Hot Springs County, WY Emergency Management and the National Weather Service in Riverton, resulted in the immediate safety of the hundreds of folks attending the Thermopolis demolition derby, which very likely saved lives. The next day, newspaper headlines didn’t include a tragic weather story at the fairgrounds. When everyone is Weather-Ready, and is prepared for the worst, tragedy can be avoided. 

Meri Ann Rush, Thermopolis- Hot Springs County, WY, Executive Director Thermopolis, WY demolition derby, August 18, 2018.  Photo courtesy of Hot Springs County, WY.
Meri Ann Rush, Thermopolis
Hot Springs County, WY,
Executive Director 
                 Thermopolis, WY demolition derby, August 18, 2018. Photo courtesy of Hot Springs County, WY.