Charlotte inched closer to the prospect of getting a sophisticated radar system to warn residents of approaching tornadoes and other violent weather conditions after the House of Representatives approved a bill designed to improve weather forecasting.
The bill now goes to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.
House lawmakers Tuesday unanimously passed the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act, which includes a measure by Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., that would require the U.S. Commerce Department to conduct a study and develop a solution to a radar gap in the Charlotte area. The Senate approved the measure last week.
With a population of 2.4 million people, Charlotte is the largest metro area without a Doppler radar system.
“Americans across the country rely on the National Weather Service to detect and provide warning for severe weather such as thunderstorms and tornadoes,” Pittenger said on the House floor Tuesday. “But Charlotte is currently the largest metropolitan area without adequate radar coverage. Addressing this shortcoming is an important step for public safety.”
Pittenger and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., have lobbied hard in Congress to address the radar gap. In the Senate version of the forecasting innovation act, Burr included a provision instructing the National Weather Service to identify solutions for improving weather radar coverage of the Charlotte area.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Burr said last week. “When it comes to dangerous tornadoes, accurate weather forecasting is critical to ensuring the safety of citizens. I’m glad my colleagues recognize the importance of providing the tools that cities like Charlotte need to prepare for potential disasters.”
Currently, Charlotte is covered by a Doppler radar system in Greer, S.C., 94 miles away from the Queen City. No other city of Charlotte’s size currently has a radar system located more than 58 miles away, according to Burr’s office.
In 2013, the current system provided a tornado warning, but for citizens in an entirely wrong neighborhood. A tornado in December 2015 struck neighboring Union County with no warning from the National Weather Service.
Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.
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 told fellow lawmakers Tuesday. “Fortunately, our community has not suffered any fatalities due to this shortcoming, but we shouldn’t wait for a tragedy to act.”