No one complains about the weather stations, but everyone is trying to do something about them.
The bottom-liners want to cut the little ones, the politicians are rushing to their rescue, and no matter how much fealty each side pledges to the idea of fiscal austerity, the battle rages on.
In February, the Reagan administration proposed eliminating 25 full-time weather stations, 20 part-time stations, seven agricultural weather stations and five fire-related weather stations.
You could hear the politicians' howls way up into the troposhere, and within a few weeks, Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige began to backpedal.
Although it had been decreed that automation and technological advances in larger stations were making the smaller ones expendable, he told Congress that the closings weren't such a hot idea after all. He said at the very least the plan was "premature," and proceeded to rescind the closings of 45 of the 57 stations.
That sent a flurry of "your-senator-saves-the-day" press releases from Capitol Hill.
"I was convinced Elko's one-man weather station deserved a second look," Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) said in a missive typical of its ilk. "After all, it is located several miles from a larger facility and so serves a more useful and vital service."
Just so no one would misunderstand, Laxalt added: "We have no excesses in these budgets but simply are fulfilling real needs."
In some cities, the politicians took a back seat in save-our-weather-stations campaigns to the forecasters themselves.
Pete Chaston, head of the Rochester office of the U.S. Weather Service office and a figure of considerable endearment to the local citizenry (when one of his yearly winter snowfall predictions was off by a mere 60 inches, he ruefully suggested that "sometimes, you have to take my forecast with a grain of rock salt"), helped put together a rescue effort that produced 3,000 letters. "If we go down, we're going to go down swinging," Chaston vowed. But the station has survived--at least for this round.
Despite these victories, however, all is not quiet on the weather station front. There is still some unfinished business from last year, and the clock is ticking ominously.
In 1981, the administration began its assault by calling for 38 stations to be cut from the fiscal 1982 budget. There has been some reprogramming in the interim, so that figure is now down to 18, but for those 18, funds will run out on April 30. Notices already have been send to the 26 affected employes.
Still, Rep. Virginia Smith (R-Neb). is not giving up. Her personal cause celebre is the a one-person station in Valentine, which serves the Sand Hills section of Nebraska that, she says, is susceptible to sudden storms (and, not coincidentally, in her district).
Baldrige has been unmoved. Having retreated on other fronts, he is ready to draw a line in the, er, sand. "The Valentine station doesn't have radar, it doesn't do upper air readings, and it doesn't generate any new information," says Commerce Department spokesman Mary Nimmo. "All it does is pass on forecasts put together elsewhere. When they do add to the forecast, it's only because someone looks out the window to say it's snowing."
Balderdash, says Smith. The forecaster happens to have a network of 75 volunteer weather watchers who report in regularly, she heatedly advised the secretary in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation last month.
Smith is trying to save all 18 doomed stations with a $2 million amendment to a supplemental appropriations bill. In the meantime, says aide Joe Western, she is also drafting legislation to establish "objective criteria" for weather station closings, "just like they do it with post offices."