Risking lives to save a buck: NWS funding cut


What are some of the implications of your local National Weather Service forecast office shutting it’s doors, for an extended period of time ? If you’re like me, an avid follower of weather events, you already know. But for those that don’t know, here are just a few.

You know that Tornado heading for your town, you may not get advance warning. Same goes for that severe thunderstorm or winter storm. How about some of you living around coastal areas, you may not get timely advance notice of a tropical storm or hurricane. For those inland, flash floods may wipe you out with no warning or watch being issued.

Thanks to congress and budget cuts [ which if you follow the news these cuts will not balance the budget or for that matter put a dent in the deficit ] this may be a reality for many NWS offices around the nation. For people that rely and depend on the NWS for timely forecasts, watches and warnings, lives will be put at risk, as well as potential crop loss.

Here is what was said about this earlier this month, from the National Weather Service Employees Organization:

House Fiscal 11 Budget Proposal Could Devastate The National Weather Service’s Life-saving Warnings and Forecasts

(February 15, 2011) As hurricane and tornado seasons approach, funding for the NWS will be nearly 30 percent less than the first half of 2011, if the Continuing Resolution proposed by the House majority is enacted. Congress’s move will necessitate work furloughs and force rolling closures of Weather Warning Offices across the country. The effects will be felt in every aspect of daily life, including emergency management, television weather, and information used by our nation’s citizens for transportation, commerce and agriculture.

The National Hurricane Center, the Storm Prediction Center, the Aviation Weather Center, the Tsunami Warning Centers, River Forecast Centers and local Weather Forecast Offices located in communities across the nation are all victims of Congress’s budget cut.

“When the budget blade drops on the NWS, it will be felt around the country,” said NWSEO President Dan Sobien. “In the next hurricane, flood, tornado or wildfire, lives will be lost and people will ask what went wrong. Congress’s cuts and the devastation to the wellbeing of our nation’s citizens are dangerously wrong.”

Reduced funding will mean upper air observations currently made twice a day might be reduced to every other day. Buoy and surface weather observations, the backbone of most of the weather and warning systems, may be temporarily or permanently discontinued. Delays in replacement satellites run the risk of losing key weather data that can be obtained no other way. “This information is vital for weather modeling and essential for accurate tornado watches and warnings,” said Sobien, “

The National Hurricane Center is not immune to these cuts as furloughs and staffing cuts will add strain to the program. The Hurricane Hunter Jet, which provides lifesaving data and helps determine a hurricane’s path, could also be eliminated.

Recent advances in aviation weather forecasting have resulted in as much as a 50 percent reduction in weather related flight delays. Unfortunately, these improvements are also on the chopping block as the money to fund the programs will be discontinued.

“Decreased accuracy of forecasts is going to devastate every aspect of our daily lives. There will be a large scale economic impact on aviation, agriculture, and the cost shipping food and other products,” warns Sobien. “Most importantly, Congress is going set back our ability to save lives by decades.”

I didn’t mention this back when I first heard of it. I really didn’t think much of it. I thought surely the federal government wouldn’t shut down the NWS to save a buck. I was wrong. It’s already having an impact, which is why I write about it today.

One of my favorite websites to visit for local weather conditions is the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network, run by the University of Georgia. This network established in 1991 by the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences of the University of Georgia will be SHUTTING DOWN July 1, 2011, after almost twenty years of service. Traditionally funding has been provided from a combination of state funding, contracts and grants which are no longer available due to the loss of state funding and key personnel. You can read more Here

Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network Map

A couple things that may also be impacted by cuts in funding.

Your local television [weather person] personality receives their data via the national weather service, including watches and warnings of severe weather. Your weather radio functions through your local NWS office, when it sounds the alarm while you’re sleeping, alerting you of severe or life threatening weather in your local area. Both of these services may see a decrease in reliability.

The implications are far and wide as to the impact on peoples daily lives. Tornado season is just starting, and hurricane season will be here sooner than you think. Time will tell how many lives will be lost this year, and in the future.


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