Wednesday, October 9, 2013

How the government "slimdown" is affecting your local NWS office

If you have visited any of several NOAA-related websites since the partial government shutdown (or "slimdown") took effect on October 1, you probably recognize the image above.  Reports indicate that approximately half of the employees of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been furloughed, though about 6,600 remain on the job, most of those in, and in support of, more than 120 local National Weather Service (NWS) forecast offices across the country. According to the article above, the NWS "is required to continue functioning because its work can identify 'imminent threats to protect life and property.'"  In fact, the shutdown of many NOAA-based websites has not affected weather forecast office sites or any other page in the domain.

Knowing this, and given that the Memphis NWS office promptly and accurately warned of a tornadic storm on Saturday evening in northwest Tennessee, I contacted Jim Belles, Meteorologist-in-Charge at NWS-Memphis, to find out how the shutdown is affecting the local forecast offices. Belles indicated that their office remains fully staffed, providing their usual suite of products - from critical Tornado Warnings to useful daily forecasts to the more mundane, but no less important, daily climate data.

Belles iterated more than once that their mission to "protect life and property" has not been compromised and that that remains their core focus.  Asked about a few specific duties and responsibilities, he dutifully went back to the mission statement and, in a nutshell, said it is "business as usual" for job functions that are directly related to the mission.  The public should not be concerned about a lack of essential services from their local NWS office.  The one supplemental service that has had to be postponed, according to Belles, is SKYWARN storm spotter training sessions that are scheduled during the shutdown. Those classes will have to be re-scheduled when the NWS has a budget with which to operate.

I can also report that the forecast models that are run on NWS supercomputers continue to churn out terabytes of forecast data daily, Doppler radars continue to scan the skies, Hurricane Hunter aircraft flew into Tropical Storm Karen, and weather balloons are still launched twice daily around the nation, even during the shutdown. In other words, the public and private sectors are getting the necessary information to continue disseminating weather information and forecasts to the nation.

So, Mid-Southerners, rest assured that no matter how long the budget battle drags on, the NWS will continue to provide services that will keep us safe and informed, in good weather and bad.

UPDATE #1 - Oct 10, 2013 - A source at the National Weather Service (not Belles) has confirmed that all NWS employee travel to the annual National Weather Association (NWA) meeting in Charleston, SC has been cancelled.  The NWA meeting, in particular, is a excellent time of education and renewal for the operational meteorologists and others that attend.  For many others who attend, such as broadcasters, private sector meteorologists, etc., NWS meteorologists' presentations often provide exceptional post-event research on weather events that result in better forecasts from the entire sector. I only hope that many of their presentations are able to be given via webinar so that others may still benefit.

--Erik Proseus, Meteorologist,

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