Shutdown stopping flow of weather information as dangerous storms threaten nation


A busy weather map shows tropical storm in Gulf of Mexico, snow in the Plains, and potential for severe weather in the Upper Midwest Friday (WeatherBell.com)

The National Weather Service is issuing forecasts and warnings, but certain Federal resources for communicating information about hazardous weather are down and out within 48 hours of a possible life-threatening hurricane, blizzard, severe thunderstorm outbreak and wildfires.

The National Hurricane Center predicts Karen will strike the Gulf Coast at near hurricane intensity Saturday and, on Friday, the western Dakotas and western Nebraska are expecting up to two feet of blinding snow while 15 million people in the Midwest are under an elevated risk for severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes. In addition, conditions are ripe for wildfires in the Southwest.

“There are multiple hazards in multiple regions that warrant the highest level of awareness,” said National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro, called back to service today (after being furloughed) to assist with communications during tropical storm Karen.

Despite these dire forecasts, several Federal weather information sources are silent.

Most National Weather Service Web sites and services are fully functional and up-to-date, but the primary NOAA and National Weather Service Twitter feeds, with over 250,000 followers, have stopped disseminating information. Not a single update has been posted on either feed since October 1.

 

 

Similarly, the National Weather Service’s Facebook page, with 193,000 fans, has not been updated since prior to the shutdown.

Vaccaro said “any social media directly related to the mission of protecting life and property” would be maintained.

But, thus far, social media feeds from NOAA and NWS headquarters have stagnated. Local National Weather Service offices were continuing to provide mission-focused updates, Vaccaro said.

“Updates to our national Facebook page will soon commence,” Vaccaro said.

In addition to the social media stoppages, several Federal websites that historically have provided information and updates about hazardous weather are also down or not being updated:

* The NOAA.gov portal, which often serves as a hub for life-threatening storm information and resources; it is redirecting to weather.gov, which is fully functional
* NOAA’s Environmental Visualization Laboratory, which provides storm imagery on a daily basis
* NASA’s Hurricane Web site, which provides news and visuals about tropical weather systems
* NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s weather imagery

While the volume of normally available weather information is clearly reduced, both the Weather Service and FEMA have brought back staff to assist with the likely landfall of tropical storm (or hurricane) Karen. The Weather Service called back Vaccaro, and its spokesperson at the National Hurricane Center, Dennis Feltgen. Politico reports FEMA coordinator Matthew Green has returned to work.

The impacts of the shutdown on the National Weather Service captured the attention of Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)

“We need to re-open the federal government,” Mikulski said in a briefing Wednesday.

She later added: “This is hurricane season. Hurricane Sandy happened in October.”

Mikulski then introduced Amy Fritz, a furloughed employee at the National Weather Service, who performs hurricane storm surge modeling. Fritz describes the impact of the shutdown on her work and her life in the video below, beginning at the 4:35.

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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Jason Samenow · October 3, 2013

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