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    NOAA Official, House Subcommittee Divided on Proposed US Weather Forecasting Legislation

    By by Jillian MacMath, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
    July 01, 2013, 4:48:15 PM EDT

    The Environment Subcommittee held the second hearing in a two-part series Wednesday to examine ways to restore U.S., leadership in weather forecasting and to improve weather forecasting at NOAA.

    "NOAA is proud of its record of accurate storm forecasts and warnings. We are fortunate that the science and technology of weather prediction is in a period where new advances are rapidly becoming available, thanks in large part to federal researchers working in close partnership with external partners," acting Under Secretary of Commerce of Oceans and Atmosphere and acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said at the hearing.

    NOAA is applying high-resolution models in shorter-range forecasts to increase tornado warning lead time, Sullivan pointed out, citing the 16 minutes of lead time before the Moore, Okla., tornado as an example.

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    "With advances in observing and modeling, we will continue to extend warning lead times to help save lives and property, but we need to maintain strong observations and research portfolios, as identified in the FY 2014 President's Budget request, in order to realize these potential improvements in weather forecasting," she said.

    Additionally, the subcommittee reviewed draft legislation which would prioritize weather-related research.

    Among other things, the draft legislation would establish a Tornado Warning Extension Program within NOAA aimed at improving the average time for a tornado warning.

    "Severe weather routinely affects large portions of the United States, and this year is no different," Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart said.

    "The United States needs a world-class weather prediction system that effectively safeguards American lives and property. The draft legislation is a down payment to upgrade our weather prediction system that has fallen behind international standards."

    Currently, NOAA's research arm spends more than three times as much on climate change research as it does on weather forecasting research.

    Though many were in favor of the legislation, Sullivan voiced 'serious concerns' regarding particular aspects of the bill.

    The legislation would aim to increase the tornado warning time from a few minutes to an hour or more, though Sullivan objected that she would not set one hour necessarily as a priority.

    "I do believe longer than 16 minutes would be beneficial," Sullivan said, arguing that more lead time could lead to inappropriate response to take safety.

    "I'm simply saying there's a genuine question about how humans respond to impending risks that our risk scientists tell us we need to be cautious about, in just imaging that an hour or a day is the right time frame to communicate on," she said. "I consider it an open question."

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