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Bipartisan letter to the National Weather Service asks what went wrong with public notice of deadly tornadoes

Volunteers clear debris from Tony Wenck’s home in Winterset, Iowa. All that is left from where the house stood is the basement and foundation.
Grant Gerlock
/
IPR
Volunteers clear debris from Tony Wenck’s home in Winterset, Iowa. All that is left from where the house stood is the basement and foundation.

Para leer en español, haz clic aquí.

Congresswomen Cindy Axne, a Democrat, and Ashley Hinson, a Republican, have sent a letter to the the acting director of the National Weather Service (NWS) Mary Erickson.

They seek answers as to why public notifications of tornadoes earlier this month were delayed for, in some cases, as long as seven minutes. The tornadoes hit especially hard in communities in south-central Iowa including Winterset and Chariton.

"We asked the National Weather Service for a full explanation of the failures earlier this month and then we want an action plan. We want to know what we need to do to make sure these issues are fixed," Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson said.

The bipartisan letter outlines the damage the state incurred due to the powerful storms. It's estimated the storms generated wind speeds up to 165 miles per hour. Some areas in Madison County were completely destroyed.

The storms on March 5 killed seven people. Hinson said every minute could make a difference in saving lives with public notifications of tornadoes or high winds.

“Early notifications from the National Weather Service save lives and prevent injuries and property damage. Delays in public notifications of severe weather like the delay that was reported before the tornado hit Winterset are unacceptable and addressing them should be our highest priority," Rep. Axne said in a written statement.

The letter also referenced a Washington Post article that reported the delay was due to a damaged fiber optic cable at the NWS Dallas-Fort Worth office.

"This is not the first time that the NWS has malfunctioned during severe weather events. There have been several reports of delays, including the inability to communicate over NWS chat when severe weather strikes. We cannot allow Iowans to be in danger because of technical problems that continue to go unaddressed," Axne and Hinson wrote in the letter.

One tornado that touched down in Madison County is considered the strongest in Iowa in almost ten years and the deadliest since 2008. The Congresswomen asked the NWS for a specific action plan for how it intends to fix the communication issues going forward and ensure it won't happen again.

Hinson said she has not yet received an answer from the NWS nor acting director Erickson.