President Donald Trump signed a weather-forecasting improvement bill that could lead to Charlotte getting a long-sought Doppler radar system to warn residents of approaching tornadoes and other violent weather.
Trump signed the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 Tuesday night. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month and the Senate in late March.
The law contains a provision pushed by Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., that requires the National Weather Service, part of the U.S. Commerce Department, to conduct a study and develop a solution to a weather radar gap in the Charlotte area.
“Local meteorologists have warned about this problem for years,” Pittenger said. “This law requires Washington to pay attention, quantify the issue and then come back to Congress with a solution. Thankfully, we haven’t yet suffered a fatality due to lack of adequate storm warnings.”
With a population of 2.4 million people, Charlotte is the largest metropolitan area without a Doppler radar system. The area is covered by a Doppler radar system in Greer, South Carolina, 94 miles away from the Queen City. No other city of Charlotte’s size has a radar system more than 58 miles away, according to Burr’s office.
“Because meteorologists lack consistent and reliable local radar data, NWS has actually missed tornadoes in Mecklenburg and Union counties,” Pittenger said.
On March 3, 2012, a tornado packing 135 mph winds roared through a section of northeastern Charlotte and swept then-7-year-old Jamal Stevens from his bed to an embankment along Interstate 485, more than 100 yards away. It deposited his then-5-year-old sister, Ayanna, in a neighbor’s yard.
“The warning from the National Weather Service came 10 minutes later after the tornado had already touched down,” Pittenger said on the House floor earlier this month. “Fortunately, our community has not suffered any fatalities due to this shortcoming, but we shouldn’t wait for a tragedy to act.”