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Diving deeper into the TORNADO Act

From evaluating the current tornado rating system to awarding grants to colleges and universities, the TORNADO Act covers a lot.

DES MOINES, Iowa — U.S. Senate Bill 3817 — also known as the TORNADO Act — would bring the biggest upgrades to severe weather forecasting, communication, and awareness in years. 

Iowa senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley were two of the original cosponsors of the bill in Washington, which was inspired after the deadly tornado outbreak on March 5.

In a statement to Local 5, Ernst said:

"When it comes to storms and deadly weather impacting our communities, it's critical we do everything we can, as quickly as we can, to protect and keep our families safe, which is why I'm pleased this important legislation is now gaining bipartisan support."

On Monday, Illinois senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat, jumped on board as a co-sponsor.

The bill has five separate focus points of improvement for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the government organization that oversees the National Weather Service.

The first is to establish a hazard risk communication office to get rid of unnecessary or confusing dangerous weather terms. The goal is to improve methods of communication during dangerous weather events to increase public action and awareness.

The second is similar: to establish a pilot research program to modernize communication of weather hazards using social and behavioral science. 

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Of all of the items in the 13-page bill, the third item may become the most crucial in the coming years: a "warn-on-forecast" plan will be created, allowing implementation of hi-resolution forecast data in real-time for tornadic conditions.

Computers could be involved with the decision making in issuing a tornado warning.

That could mean more radars across the country, more weather balloons released or other remote instrumentation, sampling the atmosphere. That will allow much better forecasting and even more accuracy and lead time with watches and/or warnings.

Evaluating the current tornado rating system — Enhanced Fujita, EF — is the fourth item on the list. 

Finally, innovative observations can be used to improve tornado forecasts and observations. Those tools come in a variety of forms and will become clearer as time goes on.

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