Enhanced tornado warnings: Leaders could demand better severe weather alerts

Published 7:45 am Thursday, April 27, 2023

People could have better warnings for severe weather if a group of senators have their way.

Senators on Wednesday reintroduced the Tornado Observation Research Notification and Deployment to Operations (TORNADO) Act to improve the forecasting and understanding of tornadoes and other hazardous weather.

The TORNADO Act would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to update its methods for predicting and communicating weather alerts to residents.

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“Even when tornadoes are well-forecasted, warnings do not always provide enough lead time to ensure the public can respond or seek appropriate shelter. The federal government has a vested interest in making sure Americans have as much notice as possible of severe weather,” Sen. Roger Wicker said. “The TORNADO Act would improve the forecasting and understanding of these natural disasters so we can prevent future loss of life and property.”

Wicker, R-Miss., along with U.S. Senators Ted Cruz, R-Texas, John Thune, R-S.D., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., Todd Young, R-Ind., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., John Boozman, R-Ark. and Gary Peters, D-Mich., are pushing the bill.

“Great advances in weather forecasting in recent decades have helped save lives, but more can and should be done to alert people when tornadoes threaten their lives. The terrible and deadly tornadoes that ripped through Mississippi recently tells us that,” Hyde-Smith said.

“This legislation would be useful in helping provide greater support for NOAA and its research partners, like the University of Mississippi, to advance severe storm and tornado detection technologies.”

The reintroduction of the legislation follows a particularly active start to tornado season, which included a series of devastating tornadoes in Mississippi.

On March 24, a tornado left a path of death and destruction that stretched from Rolling Fork to Amory. The storm claimed over 20 lives, injured dozens and left an estimated $100 million in property damages.

Despite following current protocols, The National Weather Service (NWS), which is part of NOAA, only issued a tornado warning 20 minutes before the storm arrived, leaving residents little time to prepare for the deadly winds.

The goal of the TORNADO Act would be to require NOAA to implement new technology and procedures that could help increase the lead times provided to the public in advance of extreme weather events.  Among other provisions, the TORNADO Act would:

Require NOAA to prepare and submit an action plan for the national implementation of high-resolution probabilistic guidance for tornado forecasting and prediction.

Encourage NOAA to evaluate the current tornado rating system and make updates.

Require NOAA to coordinate with appropriate entities when conducting post-storm assessments to optimize data collection, sharing, and integration.