As the people of Moore, Okla., grapple to recover following the devastating tornado that hit its community earlier this week, the head of a major weather forecasting service told a congressional subcommittee Thursday that the technology doesn't yet exist to provide warning times of an hour or more before a tornado strikes.
"We expect people to ride out the storms in their bath tubs. That's not acceptable. The only reason that's the case is that we cannot yet scientifically determine far enough in advance the strength, the exact path, the location of where a tornado is going to form and where it's going to go," Barry Myers, chief executive officer of AccuWeather, told a House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee Thursday. "The science is not there. I don't know how we're going to get there. I think that's what research is required to do."
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration issued its first tornado warning for the twister that devastated Moore 16 minutes before the tornado developed. Myers said that "with enhanced modeling, perhaps we might have known hours in advance exactly where the tornado would form, where it would touch down, how monstrous it would grow and its exact path."
"Imagine being able to tell people an hour or two in advance to move out of the zone of danger and have them watch the tornado from miles away. Is it a pipe dream?" he said.
The hearing, which was held by the subcommittee on environment and scheduled several weeks prior to the Oklahoma tragedy, examined how to improve NOAA weather forecasting and discussed draft legislation to enhance weather-related research.
"Superstorm Sandy made clear what many in the weather community have known for years: Our model for weather prediction has fallen behind Europe and other parts of the world in predicting weather events in the United States," Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, chairman of the subcommittee, said.
But while the hearing focused on boosting NOAA research and weather forecasting, an official from NOAA did not testify before the committee.
A committee aide said they invited Deputy NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan to testify, but Ciaran Clayton, director of communications for NOAA, said they were unable to provide a witness because of "logistical and scheduling challenges" but "look forward to working with Congress on weather forecasting and related matters."
The committee plans on working with NOAA to have someone from the agency testify on weather prediction research in the near future.