Schumer seeks probe of why mobile alerts went out after tornado hit Hamburg

Aug 7, 2017

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said mobile alert notifications failed to reach citizens in time to warn them about last month's tornado that hit Hamburg.

Schumer appeared in Cheektowaga late Monday morning outside Buffalo's National Weather Service.  Schumer noted the July 19th tornado hit Hamburg six minutes before residents received a mobile alert.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer holds up a chuck of wood from tornado damage in WNY.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“There was significant delay between the tornados touch down and the notification that is sent out via smartphones. We have a good system now – congress has required it,” stated Senator Schumer. “And you’re supposed to get them right away.”

Schumer is calling on the National Weather Service to investigate.

“Why were we delayed here in Western New York? I don’t know the answer. Today I am asking the National Weather Service to figure that out and let us know what went wrong, why it went wrong and what they’ve done to correct it so it won’t happen again,” Schumer said.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz noted that tornado then extended into Orchard Park without warning and it’s amazing no one was hurt or killed.  

“If that had struck a subdivision – my God – a whole subdivision would have been wiped out and we would have had deaths.  I can tell you people didn’t get warning because there were individuals walking the ‘Eternal Flame’ trail when the tornado passed overhead and they didn’t know about it until afterwards and it’s just because of the technology issues and not because of the good work of the people hear,” noted Poloncarz. 

The Buffalo office of the National Weather Service is off Aero Drive in Cheektowaga.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

The county executive was referring to the forecast team at the Buffalo weather office.

Poloncarz and Schumer praised the Buffalo Weather office for their work during the tornados.

Krista Furgala & her son Alex of Hamburg appeared with Senator Schumer.Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen BuckleyEdit | Remove

Three tornados struck the Western New York region July 19th in Hamburg and into Orchard Park, Holland and Angelica. Hamburg's fairgrounds and nearby neighborhoods had extensive damage.  Late last week it was confirmed a fourth briefly hit the town of Rushford.

Schumer said his office was contacted by a number of residents, including the Furgala family of Hamburg. They did not receive the warning until after the tornado hit.

“We were actually near Emery Park at the time – going through that tornado, but I know that our neighbors didn’t get the warning until the damage had already been done,” Krista Furgala explained. 

Furgala and her son Alex appeared with the Senator at the news conference.  

Senator Schumer is also demanding proposed cuts to the National Weather Service Satellite program be restored. He says the federal weather warning system is vital in predicting bad weather. 

“Cuts to the polar orbiting satellite programs would severely hinder officials’ ability to warn the public in the future. Weather anomalies cost municipalities and homeowners millions in repair and recovery costs, which is why Congress must continue to support NOAA’s mission to keep citizens safe. These tornadoes are the latest example of how crucial and life-saving these satellites are, and that’s why I am launching this push to make sure our weather system remains adequately funded,” Schumer noted.  

WBFO News visted the Buffalo weather service to discuss Schumer's call for an investigation, however, they were unable to comment. They referred us to the National Weather Service Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, but we have not yet received a response.