After a National Weather Service glitch delayed warnings of the deadly March 5 tornadoes in central Iowa, a bipartisan pair from the state’s congressional delegation want the agency’s chief to explain how it will prevent the situation from recurring.
In a joint letter, U.S. Representatives Cindy Axne, a Democrat from West Des Moines, and Ashley Hinson, a Republican from Marion, ask Mary Erickson, acting director of the National Weather Service, to list “specific actions the NWS intends to take to resolve these issues. cheeky.” They also asked Erickson to share more information about the causes of the delays.
“Our constituents rely on the NWS to provide timely and accurate weather alerts for when to seek shelter and take other potentially life-saving precautions,” Axne and Hinson wrote in the letter. “Delays of just a few minutes can mean the difference between life and death.”
They noted that there had been previous reports of late notifications.
“As storms become more and more unpredictable, timely and accurate weather warnings become even more critical,” they wrote. “We cannot allow the people of Iowa to be in harm’s way because of technical issues that continue to go unresolved.”
Continued:The Winterset tornado is the deadliest in Iowa since 2008. Here’s a look at the history of storms in the state.
National Weather Service spokeswoman Susan Buchanan told the Des Moines Register on March 7 that several warnings issued by weather forecasters on the day of the tornadoes did not reach residents for two to seven minutes, the longest delay being producing around 4:11 p.m. Residents on Carver Road just outside Winterset, where an EF-4 tornado killed six residents, said the storm hit around 4:30 p.m.
Continued:8 family members huddled in a pantry as a tornado approached. Only 4 survived.
The tornado, which first touched down in Madison County, traveled 70 miles to Newton, with peak winds of 170 mph. A separate tornado, which hit Red Haw State Park near Chariton the same day, killed a man in an RV there, bringing the death toll to seven on March 5.
Continued:4 more tornadoes confirmed in Saturday’s storm outbreak in Iowa, bringing the statewide total to 13
Buchanan said the delayed warnings occurred due to an overwhelmed satellite network. The problems began when a fiber optic cable that serves the National Weather Service’s Dallas-Fort Worth forecast office failed. Employees there switched from the terrestrial network to the agency’s satellite network, which the agency’s field offices also use.
With the added load and Iowa meteorologists posting more updates than usual due to impending tornadoes, the network struggled to keep up with all the incoming data, Buchanan said.
Still, she said residents should have received the warnings long before the tornadoes hit. She said the average warning reached Iowans 20 minutes before the March 5 storms, compared to the Weather Service’s average advance warning of 10 minutes.
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“The Des Moines Forecast Office was aware of the delay and took the precaution of issuing warnings earlier than they normally would under similar circumstances to compensate and ensure warnings reach the public in time. timely,” Buchanan said in a March 7 statement.
Daryl Herzmann, an Iowa State University systems analyst who tracks the National Weather Service, said he did not blame the outage for any of the March 5 fatalities. He said the tornado developed relatively slowly, giving the agency ample time to notify residents. in advance — even with the delays. The issue may have meant that residents knew about the tornado 20 minutes in advance instead of 30 minutes.
But Herzmann added that the delay is still troubling. Other tornadoes may develop faster, and a delay of seven minutes may result in death.
“It creates confusion in a situation where seconds count,” he said in a March 7 interview with the Register. “These kinds of situations should be completely avoidable with a robust IT infrastructure.”
In his March 7 statement, Buchanan said the National Weather Service would “immediately implement procedural changes to avoid a repeat.” She said the agency could require its offices to use a different type of backup when their local networks go down rather than allowing them to jump to the satellite system.
Buchanan did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Axne and Hinson’s letter.