Warning that another devastating tornado could strike Charlotte, N.C., without notice as happened in 2012, Sen. Richard Burr and Rep. Robert Pittenger have teamed up in an effort to bring state-of-the-art radar equipment closer to Charlotte.
Charlotte is the largest metropolitan area in the United States without a National Weather Service Doppler radar facility. Most of the city is served by the agency’s Doppler system in Greer, S.C., which is 70 miles away. Most meteorologists consider Doppler range to be 65 to 100 miles.
The 2012 twister that struck Charlotte was part of a larger storm system that spawned devastating tornadoes across the Midwest and South, killing at least 38 people in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. Only three people were hurt in Charlotte, but the 135 mph winds ripped off home roofs, overturned cars and split large pine trees.
Someone could have been killed.
Chief Meteorologist Van Denton of WGHP
The National Weather Service never saw the Charlotte storm coming. Some meteorologists blame the lack of a Doppler radar unit in Charlotte for failing to detect the system until after it struck.
The Weather Service once had a five-member operation in Charlotte. The office was closed in the mid-1990s as part of federal reorganization and downsizing. Offices were closed to accommodate the expanded range of new Doppler radar. Some have argued that those that survived the cuts had been saved because of political influence.
“The National Weather Service should be treating all major metropolitan areas the same,” Burr said, “but weather experts agree that the current Doppler technology locations in North Carolina are insufficient.”
Several local meteorologists have cited the storm as the reason why the radar system needs to be brought to Charlotte.
“Someone could have been killed,” said Chief Meteorologist Van Denton for WGHP in High Point wrote in a letter to Burr. “One day without action we will not be so lucky.”
“I cannot stress enough the need for radar coverage in one of the country’s fastest growing regions in here in the Carolinas,” WCNC chief meteorologist Brad Panovich wrote in a letter to Burr. “Not only would this provide government forecasters better information on severe weather but numerous private sector meteorologist and aviation interests in the region.”
The National Weather Service has defended itself saying it has the right equipment to detect and alert Charlotte residents to dangerous storms. But spokesman Chris Vaccaro said the type of thunderstorm that produced the 2012 tornado was more difficult to track.
How does this make sense?
U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger
“There was a shallow line of thunderstorms that crossed the area and under those conditions tornadoes can spin up quickly and touchdown for a brief time (as opposed to deeper/taller thunderstorms that can have a more significant circulation and can produce stronger tornadoes that stay on the ground longer),” Vaccaro said via email.
The Charlotte metro area is actually divided among three National Weather Service offices. In addition to Greer, the Raleigh station oversees Stanly, Anson, Richmond and Montgomery counties, and the Columbia office handles Lancaster and Chesterfield counties in South Carolina.
Republicans Burr of Winston Salem and Pittenger of Charlotte have introduced companion bills that require the Secretary of Commerce to operate and maintain a Doppler radar facility within 55 miles of a city with a population over 700,000. More than 800,000 people live in Charlotte, according to the U.S. Census.
The agency must also consider neighboring counties that have populations over 130,000 with limited radar coverage.
Sen. Thom Tillis, a Charlotte Republican and Rep. Alma Adams, a Greensboro Democrat, have joined as co-sponsors on the bills.
“How does this make sense?” Pittenger said. “Local meteorologists tell me the radar beam is almost 10,000 feet in the air by the time it reaches Uptown from Greer, South Carolina, and the problem is even worse in Iredell County. We need to give the National Weather Service the tools necessary to help protect local residents.”