The authors are the co-chairs of the Friends of NOAA.
Early in the morning of Jan. 19, the tornadoes began to touch down in Mississippi. The Jackson National Weather Service forecast office meticulously observed and tracked the hazardous weather. Local authorities were kept updated, and the public was warned of high winds.
The storm later started damaging homes and downing power lines in Louisiana; the New Orleans/Baton Rouge forecast office kept the public and state and local governments informed. Then after noon, tornadoes began injuring people in Alabama, and the Birmingham forecast office issued alerts and warned the public.
Finally, that evening a tornado moved a car and tore the roof off a building at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida; no one was harmed because of warnings from the Tallahassee forecast office. Before and during the storm, forecasters received new model run updates every six hours from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction in Maryland.
At each of these Weather Service forecast offices and centers, forecasters worked around the clock to keep the public apprised, forecast the weather in real time, and work with local emergency managers to mitigate any damage to lives and property — all without pay.
Forecasting the weather during extreme storms is stressful business. Meteorologists weigh all of the information in front of them — observations, model outputs, road conditions and the public’s readiness — to issue watches and warnings, make accurate and reliable forecasts and keep state and local decision-makers informed. The public has come to expect excellent weather prediction for extreme storms, so bad forecasts are not tolerated.
Every day for 35 days, from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, forecasters across the United States came to work not knowing when they would next get paid. They did this work because they believe in their mission, because of the discipline and high moral character the job demands, and because they love their jobs. They consistently came to work despite the stress and anxiety of rent, the mortgage, credit card bills, car payments and child care, all to make sure that we — fellow Americans — were safe. For that, we owe them an incredible debt of gratitude.
To show that gratitude, we, the co-chairs of the Friends of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — a funding advocacy group for the Weather Service’s parent agency — ask that Congress and President Trump fully fund NOAA for the rest of the fiscal year and not force employees to suffer the stress and anxiety of another shutdown.
NOAA — an agency dedicated to science, service and stewardship — provides vital services to the American public. The agency seeks to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts; shares that knowledge and information with the public; and conserves and manages coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.
While weather forecasts flowed unimpeded for those 35 days of the shutdown, the agency could not conduct other critical activities — issuing fishing permits, funding scientific grants, leveraging satellites for ecosystem services — which harmed the U.S. economy, scientific discovery and human health. The agency underwrites our ability to live healthy, productive and prosperous lives on this dynamic Earth — today and into the future. These services are too essential to lose.
Fully funding the agency for the rest of the fiscal year and avoiding another shutdown is a good start, but it is not enough. Soon, the president will release his budget for the 2020 fiscal year. If it is anything like his previous budgets, it will propose draconian cuts to NOAA. In addition to moving the nation backward in its ability to predict and protect the earth system and leaving us vulnerable to future hazards, it will distress the NOAA workforce at a time when we all should be most appreciative of its resiliency and dedication.
We hope that the president changes course and proposes a robust NOAA budget. And we hope that the new Congress sees fit to support and enable this agency to maximize its resources, strength, and capacity to keep us all safe and prepared.
To the NOAA workforce, we thank you for your hard work and perseverance in the face of unprecedented challenges. We hope the president and Congress will join us.
Carissa Bunge is a senior specialist for public affairs for the American Geophysical Union; Ari Gerstman is the director of Washington operations for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research; Allison Hays is the manager of public affairs for the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.