LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A bill recently filed in Congress aims to improve how we forecast and understand tornadoes.
It’s simply called the TORNADO Act (Tornado Observations Research and Notification Assessment for Development of Operations Act) and Senator John Boozman is one of its major supporters.
The 18-page legislation has a lot of demands for NOAA and the National Weather Service when it comes to updating technology and looking at how it communicates tornado risks. It would also authorize $11 million toward tornado research.
Preston Cowan walks out to in his Little Rock neighborhood every day to a scene of destruction is what
“Out of these 54 houses, there are four of us that are staying here,” Cowan said.
The last time he saw his home intact, an EF-3 tornado was just in view.
“Electricity went out, but the sirens stopped, and so I came out, and I looked to the Southwest and saw high that things were speeding up, and I just went in and said ‘Now!’ to my wife, and pow it was here,” Cowan remembered. “It actually sucked the door out of my hand.”
With that perspective, the TORNADO Act has his interest.
“Anything that will improve our chances should be looked at. I’d just be curious as to what brought that up, what we’re not doing now,” Cowan asked.
Arkansas Storm Team Meteorologist Carmen Rose said tornado research is a field less than a century old, starting to become reliable in the 1950s.
“There’s really a lot of questions we have about tornadoes still,” Rose said.
Reevaluating terminology and how danger is communicated to the public is one thing the TORNADO Act calls for, she said she would like to see.
“You can have the most fantastic information, and the best technology, but if we cannot relay the information simply and effectively then what is the point?”, Rose said.
One tool to communicate immediate risks is radar, and some areas of Arkansas have such a large gap between radars data is limited.
A different area that can always improve is a way to see what the storm looks like in person. Currently, storm chaser live feeds or citizen videos from a safe distance are the best sources, but those are not always available immediately or at all. The TORNADO Act mentions drones as one way to innovate.
“We can say debris ball, but if you see that tornado on the ground heading toward Cantrell, that’s going to register,” Rose said.
Anything that can give people more time, specificity, or urgency Cowan says he’s all for. He’d like to even get an alert on his phone that told him his neighborhood was in the path if possible.
“I’m for any legislation that gives us a little more time,” Cowan said. “If I could have notice that it was going to do this, I would have booked. Man, I would have gone somewhere away from the path.”
The Tornado Act has support from Democrats and Republicans. In December, Congress passed legislation giving over $90 million to the National Weather Service for weather forecasting satellites.