The Washington Post

Weather training organization in jeopardy after Weather Service cuts

The nation’s leading online training program for meteorologists is pleading for a cash infusion from users in the wake of government spending cuts that threaten its survival.

The program, known as COMET, provides online training courses to more than 275,000 meteorologists, pilots, emergency managers, other professionals, and students according to its parent organization, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR),

COMET’s director, Dr. Rich Jeffries, said the program has a $2 million deficit due to the recent cuts, which have come primarily from NOAA’s National Weather Service but also from Department of Defense and overseas partners.

The National Weather Service, COMET’s main funder, has been forced to reduce spending due to its own budget woes.  Yesterday, it announced a plan to furlough employees for 4 days as a cost savings measure. The number of furlough days would have been larger had it not slashed $14 million in funding for contracts and grants  for programs like COMET according to NOAA.

“We know this budget climate is difficult, and we continue to strive to fulfill our core mission of science, service and stewardship while balancing investments in current and future programs and services,” said Ciaran Clayton, a spokesperson for NOAA.

The COMET program provides training modules on its MedEd website on topics ranging from radar and satellite analysis to space weather.  Jeffries estimates the value of the website at over $70 million according to a UCAR news release.

“Meteorologists who provide critical prediction services for the nations weather services and the U.S. military, as well as pilots and emergency managers, rely on MetEd to stay up to date on forecasting research and technology,” Jeffries said. “Without MetEd, the ability of these forecasters and other professionals to keep their skills current and provide needed predictions of potentially dangerous weather events would be seriously impaired.”

The online courses are offered free of charge. Jeffries wants to raise $400,000 to continue operating and is asking for donations of $1.50 per user. He’s also seeking support from private sector partners.

“We want to maintain a free and open source for the future work force,” Jeffries said. “We’re trying to buy some time during this period of budget uncertainty, and hope to re-establish funding agreements with government sources as their funding situations improve.”

Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.
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