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Members of Congress want improvements to National Weather Service alert system

A malfunction in the National Weather Service's communication infrastructure delayed the issuance of tornado warnings on March 5.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Following Iowa's deadly tornadoes on March 5, some members of Congress are urging for improvement to the warning process.

Reps. Cindy Axne and Ashley Hinson of Iowa want to know why the National Weather Service's (NWS) communication system malfunctioned during the storm, delaying warnings for up to seven minutes. 

In a letter sent Tuesday to the Acting Director of the NWS Mary Erickson, Axne and Hinson requested more information on the communication issues and what the NWS will do to fix these problems.

"Every minute counts for saving lives, preventing injury, and mitigating property damage when severe weather strikes," the letter reads. "As storms become increasingly unpredictable, quick and accurate weather alerts become even more critical."

Along with the delayed warnings, the NWS has previously had issues with NWS Chat, an online portal that directly connects NWS meteorologists with broadcast meteorologists and emergency managers.

Iowa senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst are co-sponsors of the TORNADO Act. The bill seeks to simplify, update and improve forecasting technology and infrastructure.

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“When it comes to keeping Iowans safe from severe weather and tornadoes, every second counts," Grassley said. "Our bill will ensure NOAA is taking necessary steps to streamline life-saving alert systems and keeping their communication equipment up-to-date."

The TORNADO Act would establish a Hazard Risk Communication Office to simplify and improve the communication of alerts, along with a pilot program to test the effectiveness of implementing new techniques for hazardous weather communication.

It would also require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to prepare and submit an action plan for the national implementation of high-resolution probabilistic guidance for tornado forecasting and prediction.

It also encourages NOAA to evaluate the current tornado rating system and make updates. The Enhanced Fujita Scale replaced the Fujita scale on Feb. 1, 2007.

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