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Hoeven urges study of weather radar coverage after Watford City tornado

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

WATFORD CITY, N.D.—Sen. John Hoeven pressed Wednesday for the National Weather Service to study gaps in weather radar coverage for western North Dakota following a devastating tornado in Watford City that killed a newborn baby.

Hoeven, R-N.D., requested Wednesday, July 25, in a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that Watford City and western North Dakota be included in a study related to weather detection and forecasting coverage.

The closest Doppler radars to Watford City are near Minot and Glasgow, Mont., or 140 to 180 miles away. At that distance, the radars can't detect storms forming below 10,000 feet above the ground.

The coverage is worse in other areas of western North Dakota. For example, the closest Doppler radar can't detect storms from the ground up to about 16,000 feet in part of Bowman County.

"This gap in coverage prevents a large area of my state from receiving sufficient warning in advance of tornadoes," Hoeven writes in the letter.

Hoeven requests that western North Dakota be included in a study required by the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act that was approved in April 2017. The study seeks information about gaps in radar coverage and recommendations to Congress to improve hazardous weather detection.

An EF 2 tornado touched down in a Watford City RV park about 12:45 a.m. on July 10, killing a week-old baby, injuring more than two dozen people and displacing an estimated 200 people.

The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning that indicated a tornado was possible. The agency did not issue a tornado warning.

North Dakota meteorologists have said better radar coverage may not have changed the outcome, as the tornado developed quickly and was low to the ground.

McKenzie County Emergency Manager Karolin Jappe called attention to the gap in weather radar coverage the same day as the tornado.

Jappe said Wednesday she has long been concerned about improving the radar coverage for the county that leads the state in oil production and has massive oil storage tanks, several gas processing plants and workers living in temporary housing.

"Maybe we don't have 100,000 people, but we have the risks that other people do not have," Jappe said. "We need to consider that to keep the people safe."

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