After a slew of contentious hearings and controversial bills last week, there was finally something upon which both members of Congress and scientists could agree– two decades is too long to wait for updated legislation on weather radar. Yet the last major weather bill was passed in the 1990s, and some cities are still not receiving timely, critical information needed to prepare for disasters.
Improving weather radar, hurricane and tornado research, and tsunami warning and uncovering prehistoric tsunamis were all on the docket in the bipartisan Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 (H.R.353), which passed the House by voice vote. The bill will strengthen weather pattern predictions by developing forecasts on timescales ranging from the subseasonal (two weeks to three months), seasonal (three to twelve months) and interannual (up to two years). It will also improve both the communication of forecasts to public safety officials, businesses, and the public and the process of moving research into operations and commercialization. Additionally, H.R. 353 requires a study to uncover where gaps may exist in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s weather radar and directs the agency to look for opportunities to use commercial data and technologies in addition to its own satellites and weather data.
Representative Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1), who introduced the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act (H.R.312), which had similar provisions included in H.R. 353, spoke in support of the bill, “At a time when budget uncertainty jeopardizes some of the most fundamental services NOAA provides to our nation, it is imperative that we support legislation like H.R.353 to give the agency the resources and flexibility needed to fulfill its mission.” Scientists have pushed for this deal for years, and their goals were echoed by Congress last week. “From long-term forecasting that can prevent costly agricultural losses to more actionable information about severe weather, this legislation will help save lives and reduce avoidable property loss,” Senator John Thune (SD), one of the bill’s primary Senate sponsors, remarked. Now approved by both chambers, the bill sits on President Trump’s desk.