The Washington Post

National Weather Service would continue operating in shutdown

(National Weather Service) (National Weather Service)

If the Federal government shuts down starting Tuesday, you will still receive its weather forecasts and warnings.

“[E]mergency operations that protect against a significant and imminent threat to the safety of human life and property” are excluded (or “excepted”) from the shutdown the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says.

The exclusion would affect 3,935 employees at the National Weather Service (NWS) who forecast the weather, issue warnings, support radar, satellite and other weather monitoring, and are involved in computer model operations.  Within NOAA, the NWS is by far the organization with the most employees excluded from a possible shutdown.

When the government last shutdown in 1996, the NWS also continued its basic weather operations, as I wrote in a 2011 blog post:

During the last Federal shutdown in 1996, NWS offices remained at least partially operational. For example, the NWS Office in Sterling, Va. disseminated forecasts and warnings during the Blizzard of 1996 which coincided with the shutdown. In order to pay some contract employees and even utility bills at NWS offices, the agency used 1995 carry-over funds (according to an article published in the Washington Post on 1/17/96).

In a shutdown scenario, internal efforts to support the build-out of polar satellites, whose data is important for forecasting, are also slated to move forward.

“The operational mission for JPSS [Joint Polar Satellite System] will be supported by excepted personnel,” said Ciaran Clayton, spokesperson for NOAA.

A gap in polar satellite data is possible as soon as 2014, and could last 17 to 53 months.

While weather forecasting operations and satellite projects would continue, employees who support weather research would not report for duty.  For example, work to further develop and improve the Global Forecasting System (GFS) model would take a pause.

The NWS is in the midst of an “arms race” with the Europeans to have the world’s most powerful, accurate weather forecasting model.

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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