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Trump administration proposes 8 percent budget cut at National Weather Service, reduction in staff

Satellite image of three hurricanes in the Atlantic at once — Katia, Irma and Jose. (NOAA/NASA)
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Fresh on the heels of the costliest year on record for weather disasters, with economic damages exceeding $300 billion in the United States, the Trump administration has proposed cutting the National Weather Service’s budget by about 8 percent. It also recommends eliminating 355 jobs at the agency, including 248 forecasting positions

The overall budget decrease for fiscal 2019  totals just over $75 million.

The reduction in forecasting jobs is the biggest surprise in the budget proposal. Its justification is the 2016 Weather Service Operations and Workforce Analysis that found “there is a mismatch in some areas [of the Weather Service] between workforce and workload” and “that the current distribution of staff across the country can evolve.”

The president’s proposal directs the agency to reduce staff to increase “flexibility within NWS’ operating model” and “begin implementing a series of operational reforms aimed at increasing staffing flexibility to best match service demands with available resources.”

The costs savings of such cuts would total about $15 million.

The National Weather Service Employees Organization, a labor union that has long fought staff reductions, said the cuts will create a “perfect storm” that could jeopardize the reliability of forecasts and warnings.

“We can’t take any more cuts and still do the job that the American public needs us to do — there simply will not be the staff available on duty to issue the forecasts and warnings upon which the country depends,” said Dan Sobien, the union’s president.

The union said the reductions contradict statements within the budget document itself on the critical role forecasters play, specifically: “Advance notice provided by weather forecasts enables the Nation’s leaders, decision-makers, and media to provide better warnings and advisories to first responders, the public, and businesses.”

National Hurricane Center issued its best forecasts on record this year

Additional proposed cuts at the Weather Service, part of the overall $75 million reduction, include:

  • A $15 million cut in the surface and marine observations program, which includes data points that provide information on ocean cycles such as El Nino.
  • An $11 million cut to the agency’s tsunami warning program.
  • A $14 million cut to its science and technology integration activities, which would decrease investments in weather and water modeling and some supporting evaluation.

Collectively, these reductions would make it difficult for the National Weather Service to comply with parts of the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president last spring. The legislation requires support for some of the same activities that are marked for reductions.

The administration’s budget is just a starting point in the agency funding process. Some or many of the reductions proposed may be dead on arrival in Congress.

Despite the cuts in the administration’s budget Quartz reported that the National Weather Service received some one-time supplementary funding last week, part of a hurricane disaster relief package appended to the government spending deal that keeps the government running into March.

The package includes $100 million for improvements to support weather supercomputing infrastructure and forecasting.