Wicker Works to Improve Weather Forecasting

March 28, 2022

Tornado season came abruptly last week as heavy storms swept through Mississippi, taking down trees and power lines across our state. More than 19,000 power outages were reported in Mississippi. Campuses like Mississippi State University and Holmes Community College suffered wind damage. Thankfully, no lives were lost in our state. Yet these storms were another stark reminder that early and accurate forecasting is critical to saving lives.

Throughout my time in Congress, I have pushed for a wide range of legislation to improve weather forecasting, harden our infrastructure, and help homeowners who have suffered property damage from storms and floods. As the lead Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, I am continuing to advance proposals that will help protect our communities from extreme weather.

Tornado Act Advances in Senate

Tornado alerts can make all the difference in preparing for a storm. These alerts typically provide only 10 to 15 minutes of advance warning, but experts believe new advances could create up to an hour of lead time for residents to find shelter. Recently, I introduced the TORNADO Act to move us closer toward that goal. This bill would push the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to begin using storm models that can predict a tornado’s path rather than relying solely on radar detection. It would also require the agency to update its computer systems to avoid notification delays, which occurred last December when deadly tornadoes hit Iowa.

Given the constant threat of tornadoes, this legislation cannot come soon enough. I am pleased that the Commerce Committee approved the bill last week, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.

Flood Legislation Gains Momentum

Forecasts are also critical in protecting against hurricanes and floods. In recent years, new technology has made it possible to predict the intensity of storms off the coast using underwater drones. In 2018, I authored legislation to help coordinate efforts between federal agencies, the Navy, and private researchers to make the most out of these technologies. President Trump signed the bill into law, and we are now receiving better forecasts as a result. More recently, I authored the FLOODS Act to enhance the way we collect rainfall data, which should lead to more timely and accurate flood predictions. This bill has passed the Senate, and I am hopeful the House will take it up soon.

Even with earlier warnings, extreme weather events will continue to pose a risk to life and property. I have led efforts in Congress to provide compensation to hurricane and flood victims, and I will continue to support reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program.

Better Infrastructure Will Make Us Safer

Infrastructure projects have played a key role in mitigating storm damage and saving lives. The recent investments we have made in our levees, flood walls, and drainage systems have prevented a disastrous repeat of Hurricane Katrina. But we are still in need of greater protection.

Last summer, I supported the bipartisan infrastructure package, which will provide the most significant investment in our physical infrastructure in a generation. This legislation provides targeted funding for Army Corps of Engineers projects, such as the Mississippi Rivers and Tributaries system, as well as coastal emergencies and inland flood mitigation projects. It will also upgrade our electric grid so that fewer homes lose power because of extreme weather. Even as we continue to improve forecasting, these strategic investments in infrastructure will help minimize future damage to our communities.