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Press Releases :: June 8, 2009

Committee Members Examine Need for Improved Storm Forecasting and Warnings


(Washington, DC) – Federal R&D to improve forecasts of tornadoes and severe storms may lead to better warnings and a reduction in the number of false alarms, according to weather experts gathered today at a roundtable discussion organized by House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) and attended by Committee Member Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN).
“Emergency management officials and meteorologists agree that one of the largest barriers to getting the public to heed warnings is the complacency that grows out of numerous false alarms,” said Gordon. “One reason for that is that we know so little about why tornadoes form from certain storms but not from others. Federal R&D efforts currently underway at the National Weather Service and other agencies may lead to more understanding, improved radar for more accurate forecasts, and ultimately, fewer false alarms for the public.”
“Our forecasters and experts in weather technology are taking great strides to help model and predict tornado activity,” said Davis.  “This work has great potential to save lives and better help Americans in affected areas prepare for severe weather.  I appreciate my good friend, colleague, and Chairman Bart Gordon for convening this very important roundtable so we could have an opportunity to learn more about this crucial issue and put what we learned into practical use.” 
Experts at the roundtable discussed emerging technology, such as Phased Array Radar and Warn-On Forecasts that will enable meteorologists to provide more accurate forecasts more quickly, an effort that may help to improve lead time and reduce false alarms. Currently, more than 70 percent of tornado warnings are false alarms.
Another topic at the roundtable was the need to improve capabilities of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radios, which are lauded by meteorologists and emergency managers as an effective means to prepare oneself for a tornado or severe weather, but they are not used widely. The National Weather Service has moved from full county warnings to storm-based warnings, which may affect only select parts of a county. While broadcast alerts can convey the more localized warnings, NOAA Weather Radios are capable only of full county warnings, meaning a resident with a NOAA Weather Radio in the southern part of a county may be disturbed by a warning that applies only to the northern part of a county. As technology improves, the storm-based warnings may also be applied to NOAA Weather Radios. More narrowly pinpointed warnings on the radios could help to improve usage.
Tornado forecasting and warnings is one part of hazards mitigation that the Committee will examine later this week during a Technology and Innovation Subcommittee hearing, Reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program: R&D for Disaster Resilient Communities.
For more information on the Committee’s work on hazards mitigation, please visit our website.


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