Q: Why did you help introduce the TORNADO Act?
A: After deadly tornados swept across Iowa in early March, Iowans are grieving the tragic loss of life and rebuilding after three supercells produced more than a dozen tornados, including an EF-4 (166-200 mph) according to the National Weather Service. The largest tornado moved for nearly 70 miles across Madison, Warren, Polk and Jasper counties, destroying homes, trees, power lines and businesses, causing significant damage in local communities and farms. This was the second longest tornado in Iowa since 1980, and the deadliest since a May 2008 tornado struck Parkersburg and New Hartford, killing nine people and destroying nearly 300 homes. In the aftermath of the recent tornado outbreak on March 5, the National Weather Service confirmed technical issues caused some delay in tornado warnings – including a maximum delay of seven minutes for a warning issued for the storm near Winterset. Every second counts in severe weather, and that means life-saving alert systems must be functioning at full speed with up-to-date technology. The loss of seven souls in Iowa served as a tragic reality check to ensure we take extra precautions to minimize loss of life in the future. Working to fix shortfalls in the nation’s weather alert systems, Sen. Joni Ernst and I joined efforts to introduce the bipartisan TORNADO Act that directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency that oversees the National Weather Service, to help ensure all systems are up to the task. It would establish a Hazard Risk Communication Office to simplify and improve communication alerts; establish a pilot program to test the effectiveness of new technology for hazardous weather communication; require the NOAA to identify a plan for high-resolution guidance to improve accuracy for forecasting tornados, that may include pulling from more radar, weather balloons and other instruments to cast a wider net and real time data collection; encourage the NOAA to assess what’s working and what’s not working in the current tornado rating system and make improvements; and require NOAA to collaborate when conducting post-storm assessments to make the best use of data collection and sharing. The bottom line is clear. Communicating weather emergencies must dot the i’s and cross the t’s to ensure public safety is as protected as possible.
Q: How can Iowans best prepare for weather emergencies?
A: Although the March storms roared in like a lion, don’t assume it will go out like a lamb. Iowans know severe weather can strike at a moment’s notice, any month of the year. In fact, strong thunderstorms in December resulted in 43 tornados stretching across the state, the highest number of tornadoes recorded in a single day. The National Weather Service confirmed it was the first derecho ever recorded in December in U.S. history. Iowans are still reeling from the costliest thunderstorm event in U.S. history – the derecho in August 2020 that flattened tens of millions of acres, stripped trees and tore apart grain bins, barns and buildings. The scars of the “inland hurricane” are grooved into the landscape that’s missing millions of trees and yet are testament to the resilience of Iowa’s neighbor helping neighbor mindset that helps our communities pull through together from one generation to the next. The lesson from all of these violent storms is clear. Don’t assume you and your loved ones will escape the eye of the next storm, so take every precaution to protect your safety.
I encourage Iowans to be vigilant and take advantage of receiving weather alerts from multiple sources. Iowans who have survived flooding, winter storms and tornados certainly appreciate how important it is not to dismiss weather advisories, watches and warnings. Tune into local news and the NOAA Weather Radio. It broadcasts continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Know if your community uses outdoor sirens. Create a family plan for sheltering in a safe place and build a disaster supply kit that can provide for survival needs in an emergency, including pets and family members with special needs. When under a tornado warning: Do shelter away from windows, in the interior and lowest level of the building. Don’t try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle. Sign up for free wireless emergency alerts on mobile devices that warn the public of an impending natural or other emergency based on geographic location. Opt-in to these alerts in the notification settings menu of your mobile device.
No matter the season, be “weather ready” every day of the year. Don’t mess with Mother Nature.