Montana forecasters become partners in preparedness with Assiniboine and Sioux tribal elders

Montana has one of the most extreme climates in the country, with record-breaking temperature swings of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of a single day. In February of 2018, a blizzard sent three Indian reservations and two counties into a state of emergency. Twenty-foot snow drifts offsite link pushed up against house doors, blocking those inside offsite link from reaching food, water, and vital medical services. Although the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northeastern Montana was not one of the areas hit by this disaster, elders from the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes worry that extreme winter weather could threaten their own reservation in the future.

Four representatives of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and a National Weather Service employee stand behind a table filled with boxes of NOAA Weather Radios.

The Weather Forecast Office in Glasgow, Montana, gave 60 NOAA Weather Radios to the tribal elders of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. (Image credit: Patrick Gilchrist/NOAA)

Throughout 2018, the National Weather Service’s Weather Forecast Office (WFO) in Glasgow, Montana, worked collaboratively with the Fort Peck tribal elders to help prepare their community for extreme weather and spark interest in meteorology among the younger generation. This collaboration is the result of several years of work establishing mutual trust and respect between the WFO and the reservation’s Tribal Elders Program. 

Patrick Gilchrist, Glasgow WFO’s Warning Coordination Meteorologist, worked alongside the tribal emergency manager to increase the resiliency of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to weather hazards. The WFO collaborated with the tribal elders to create extreme weather strategies, designing tornado and severe weather preparedness plans for the community. The Fort Peck Reservation established an emergency operations center, developed a system to monitor local weather conditions, and created a way to communicate weather information with their community, becoming the second NWS Storm-Ready® tribal nation in the country. 

To provide older members of the community with at-home hazard warnings, the office also distributed 60 NOAA weather radios. “The NWS recognizes the vulnerability some of the tribal elders have, especially those living in more rural parts of the Fort Peck Reservation, and are proud to support efforts to keep those elders safe,” said Gilchrist.

In addition to serving the elders within the reservation, Glasgow WFO also reached out to its youth. During the annual Tribal Earth Day celebration, hundreds of students from reservation schools interacted with NOAA scientists to learn the math and physics behind local weather hazards as well as how to prepare for these events. Through learning about these meteorological phenomena, the students began to see how their academic subjects could be used in real-world careers. 

After many years working with tribal leaders to understand how to effectively serve the community’s youth and adults, the Glasgow WFO has become the reservation’s partner in preparedness, a trusted source of information to be approached when the need arises. With this partnership, the Fort Peck Reservation stands better prepared for whatever conditions the Montana weather might send its way.

This story was originally published in the Fiscal Year 2018 NOAA Education Accomplishments Report