15 ways the Federal shutdown is hampering the National Weather Service


National Weather Service office in Gaylord, Michigan

Large parts of the Federal government are shut, but the National Weather Service – in the spirit of protecting life and property – continues to work.

In one sterling example of dedication and tenacity, forecasters at the NWS office in Rapid City, South Dakota hiked to work and/or slept there overnight to ensure uninterrupted operations during a historic, paralyzing blizzard.

But – from a lack of janitorial services to canceled travel to broken data streams – the shutdown has unleashed a torrent of obstacles, making it more difficult for forecasters to effectively do their jobs.

The National Weather Service Employees Organization, a labor union, asked its members how the shutdown was disrupting their work and it received scores of responses.

Here’s a summary of some of the major issues raised, drawn from the union’s survey:

* Weather research to support forecasting operations has stopped, as most researchers are furloughed.

* Travel to major meetings, where forecasting methods and research are presented and discussed, has been canceled or will be canceled (unless government re-opens)

* Public outreach efforts have been canceled, such as training weather observers (spotters), school visits and office tours.

* Vacant positions at understaffed offices are not being filled.

* Preventative maintenance on weather radar and instruments (such as Automated Surface Observation Systems, used at many airports) has stopped in many cases.

* Janitorial services have stopped at some offices. In one case, forecasters were mopping bathroom floors.

* Online forecaster training modules are inaccessible in some cases. A mandatory onsite training was canceled at at least one office.

* River gauges – for monitoring flooding – have broken and cannot be serviced.

* Some data (model output statistics) from the European computer model – highly regarded for its accuracy – are unavailable, as the computer server resides at a furloughed office.

* Some data for forecasting wildfires are unavailable.

* Historic climate data from National Climatic Data Center, which is shut, are unavailable.

* No monthly pest control and regularly scheduled garbage pickup occurred at at least one office.

* Upgrades to more modern computer and software systems have been put on hold at some offices.

* Activities to support the NWS cooperative observer program – through which it receives weather observations from more than 11,000 volunteers – have been suspended. It is impossible to maintain/repair equipment.

* Storm damage surveys have been disallowed unless an exception is granted.

Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society, discusses the broader repercussions of these kinds of disruptions in his blog post: Implications of the “Shutdown” on the Weather Community and Beyond

Related reading:

NWS forecasters overcome nastiest elements in Federal shutdown; hike to work in blizzard

Alaska National Weather Service office begs “please pay us” in secret message

Shutdown stopping flow of weather information as dangerous storms threaten nation

National Weather Service would continue operating in shutdown

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 9, 2013