WASHINGTON — With tornado season about to begin, the U.S. House passed a bill Tuesday by Rep. Jim Bridenstine aimed at boosting federal weather forecasting capabilities and lengthening the warning time for tornadoes.
The legislation passed by voice vote and now goes to the Senate.
Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, said the bill would rebalance the priorities of the federal agencies involved in weather research and forecasting. It “helps get weather research projects out of the lab and into the field,” he said.
Bridenstine and other lawmakers said the legislation would also push the federal agencies to incorporate input from the broader weather community, including private companies and universities.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., said the legislation presses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “to get serious about exploring private sector solutions for their data needs.” Moreover, she said, it would tap the expertise of social scientists about how to convey severe weather warnings to the public.
At a hearing on the bill last summer, Kelvin Droegemeier, professor of meteorology and vice president of research at the University of Oklahoma, told a House subcommittee that research on storm warnings should include an examination of how people respond to them.
“We need to understand how we convey and formulate uncertainty in messaging to the public, how the public responds and comprehends warning information,” Droegemeier told a Science, Space and Technology subcommittee.
Droegemeier also said that — because of uncertainty about public response to warnings — lawmakers should be cautious in focusing on the goal of providing an hour of lead time about potential tornadoes.
In his remarks on the House floor Tuesday, Bridenstine praised the work at OU’s National Severe Storms Laboratory and said its use of military radar technology has the potential for giving an hour of lead time to the public for tornadoes.
Residents of Moore got 15 minutes of lead time last year before the devastating tornado struck, Bridenstine said.
“America can do better than 15 minutes,” he said.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said the nation’s leadership has slipped in severe weather forecasting, with European models often predicting the United States’ weather better than domestic forecasts.
Bridenstine’s bill originally sought to shift money from climate change research at federal weather agencies to improve tornado forecasting.
However, Democrats on the Science, Space and Technology Committee objected and a bipartisan compromise was worked out.