Weather Bill Boosts Tornado-Warning Times

Saturday, 07 Dec 2013 03:44 PM

By Andrea Billups

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Congress could be on the verge of passing its most comprehensive weather bill since the mid-1990s.

The "Weather Forecasting Improvement Act" was approved on Thursday by the House Science Committee, and moves on for full House consideration in the small window left for action this session.

The bill prioritizes weather forecasting, establishing a research wing inside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in an effort to improve performance lags within the organization and bring it more in line to computer modeling efforts of other nations, Wunderground.com reports.

It also seeks action on a gap in polar-orbiting satellite coverage. Such satellites are in need of improvement and updating as some are closing in on their lifetime capabilities, facing what some experts have described as a "catastrophic" reduction in data starting in 2016, according to a review team commissioned by the federal government, which released its findings in mid-November, according to Climatecentral.org.

The U.S. falls behind computer modeling efforts in other developed nations including Japan and those in the European Union. EU models forecast, for example the deadly Superstorm Sandy a week in advance and several days before forecasts inside the U.S.

The bill seeks to extend tornado-warning lead times past one hour. Currently, that lead time is just 14 minutes, but scientists think that technological improvements could allow that time to be increased, offering more time for those in a storms path to move away from it or seek protective shelter.

Some have argued that social science research shows people pay less attention to danger if a warning lead-time is longer than a half hour, delaying protection from a deadly storm.

Lawmakers living in the nation's tornado belt applaud the bill's effort to improve storm forecasting and warnings. “The passage of this bill out of the Science Committee is a victory for Oklahomans and all Americans who live in tornado-prone areas,” Rep. Jim Bridenstine, Oklahoma Republican said in a statement.

The bill has broad bipartisan support and is jointly sponsored by Rep. Susan Bonamici, a Democrat from Oregon.

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