Concerns mounting over proposed NWS cuts

(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
Updated: Feb. 14, 2018 at 6:31 PM CST
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(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - The proposed White House budget could cause stormy conditions for the National Weather Service.

Cuts are on the table, including forecaster positions. Officials say it could impact local offices, including Huntsville.

It would eliminate hundreds of jobs at the agency. Union officials for the National Weather Service say their mission is to help save lives and further cuts to their workforce would impact their ability to do that.

The proposed White House budget includes cutting the National Weather Service's budget by about 8 percent. It also recommends eliminating more than 355 jobs.

The National Weather Service Employees Organization, a labor union, says it could impact local offices, including Huntsville, and jeopardize the reliability of forecasts and warnings.

"You're going to lose that local Huntsville expertise. We're coming up on tornado season… It's adopting an untested idea. It's going to cost lives, it's going to cost the economy. Forecasts are going to be worse," Dan Sobien, union president.

According to Sobien, NWS is already down more than 600 employees and more budget cuts would bring the shortage to more than 1000 workers- a big percentage of their workforce.

"The only way they're going to be able to do this is to close offices or at least close them for parts of the day. Offices like Huntsville might be closed at night," Sobien said. "These are the people that are issuing the tornado warnings, putting out the freeze forecasts and they're just not going to be there. They're not going to be there in offices like Huntsville in the middle of the night or some other key time. The forecasts are going to have to come from somewhere else and it's going to be people who are not familiar with the Huntsville area."

At SWIRLL, the severe weather institute at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, officials say forecasting severe weather in north Alabama is difficult and requires those who are familiar with the atmosphere, surface characteristics and humidity that can cause variabilities.

"Unless a forecaster really knew the area and quirks of the meteorological conditions and the evolutions of weather systems over northern Alabama, they could have a difficult time in producing accurate forecasts over this region," said Dr. Kevin Knupp, professor of atmospheric science.

"We have a lot of different things going on that make our atmosphere really variable in space and time. That includes topography, variation in surface roughness and surface characteristics. The higher humidity that makes clouds which in turn can produce variabilities in the atmosphere which are difficult to detect but they're important in making the weather that we have around here, including tornadoes," Knupp said.

Sobien says NWS's mission is to help save lives and further cuts to their workforce would impact their ability to do that.

There are additional proposed cuts at the Weather Service, part of a $75 million reduction overall for fiscal 2019.

It comes on the heels of the costliest year on record for weather disasters, with economic damages exceeding $300 billion in the United States.

The justification for the proposed reductions is the 2016 Weather Service Operations and Workforce Analysis that found "there is a mismatch in some areas between workforce and workload" and "that the current distribution of staff across the country can evolve."

The president's proposal directs the agency to reduce staff to increase "flexibility within NWS' operating model" and "begin implementing a series of operational reforms aimed at increasing staffing flexibility to best match service demands with available resources."

The costs savings of such cuts would total about $15 million.

Additional proposed cuts at the Weather Service include:

  • A $15 million cut in the surface and marine observations program, which includes data points that provide information on ocean cycles such as El Nino.
  • An $11 million cut to the agency’s tsunami warning program.
  • A $14 million cut to its science and technology integration activities, which would decrease investments in weather and water modeling and some supporting evaluation.

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