Weather Service’s Sequester Furloughs, Hiring Freeze Threaten Forecasts

Filed under: News,Politics,The Economy |

The GOP-created political folly that is the federal budget sequester is even affecting the weather.

NOAA is proposing four sequester-related  furlough days for workers across the agency, including the National Weather Service.

“…we are entering into national consultations with the labor unions that represent some of the NOAA workforce regarding implementation of up to four days of furlough for each NOAA employee before September 30, 2013″ said Kathryn Sullivan, acting NOAA administrator, in an email to staff.

Sequester: Forecaster for economic disaster

Sequester: Forecast for economic disaster

The consultation process will give labor unions the opportunity to provide alternatives to the possible furloughs. NOAA will take these alternatives into consideration before formalizing a furlough plan according to Ciaran Clayton, an agency spokesperson.

Richard Hirn, general counsel for the National Weather Service’s labor union, the National Weather Service Employees Organization, immediately criticized the furlough plan.

“NOAA’s plans to furlough operational employees at the National Weather Service as we enter the severe storm and hurricane season is unnecessary and places the public at great risk,” Hirn said.

National Weather Service employees say that four furlough days due to the sequester added to the current hiring freeze stretches already short staffed offices to a breaking point. One again the GOP-created sequester is putting the American public at risk, and jeopardizing the National Weather Service’s mission of saving lives and property.

Most of the NWS employees being furloughed because the sequester are designated “emergency essential,” because of their public safety responsibilities and are required to work even during catastrophic conditions.

Commerce, air travel, and most daily events hinge on accurate weather forecasts.

The weather forecasts become lifesavers in the summer months when floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, heat waves, wildfires and thunderstorms are most prevalent.

“Furloughs to the National Weather Service, in conjunction with furloughs to other agencies the nation depends on for emergency services, is like playing ‘chicken’ with the American public,” said Dan Sobien NWSEO president. “One missed event would realistically, cost millions. NOAA is risking everything and has nothing to gain. It’s not a sound decision.”

The NWS has reduced staffing at forecast offices nationwide due to a hiring slowdown during the past two years.

The March 27 NOAA hiring freeze has many currently understaffed forecasting offices feeling the strain even during fair weather days.

Potential impacts of NOAA’s sequester-related decision include:

  • Decreased accuracy of aviation, marine, fire weather, and water level forecasts that will cost billions of dollars in flight delays and increased risk of lives and property.
  • Reduced efficiency and accuracy for tornado events due to reduced alertness in short staffed offices.
  • Staffing shortages at the Hurricane Center will result in increased errors which could be catastrophic. Less NOAA staff will be available to fly into hurricanes.
  • Reduced ability to deploy weather support for wildfires and other emergencies.
  • A disruption in observations impacting weather model accuracy.
  • Outages of critical meteorological, hydrological, satellite, and radar data due to a shortage of employees available to fix system glitches. Help desks and parts warehouses will likely be short-staffed resulting in further delays.

“Staffing at weather forecasting offices is already stretched thin. The very people we count on to be alert for watches and warnings are working overtime and changing from day shift to night shift and back in the same week,” Sobien said. “Unfortunately, it will only take one bad storm to show that NOAA is dangerously cutting corners in the wrong places.”

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