National Weather Service Forecasts Frustration of Furloughed Workers

Left: Actual snow fall from February 6, 2010. Center: Forecast using NOAA' sattelite technology. Right: Forecast without using satellite data.
National Journal
Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
Oct. 10, 2013, 11:49 a.m.

The gov­ern­ment may stop, but the weath­er will not.

It’s why ap­prox­im­ately 80 per­cent of Na­tion­al Weath­er Ser­vice em­ploy­ees re­main hard at work track­ing storms and is­su­ing alerts.

A state­ment on the Na­tion­al Ocean­ic and At­mo­spher­ic Ad­min­is­tra­tion web­site says it will con­tin­ue to be main­tained be­cause it con­tains in­form­a­tion that will “pro­tect life and prop­erty.” But due to the shut­down, the met­eor­o­lo­gists and re­search­ers will not re­ceive pay un­til Con­gress reaches a budget agree­ment. The Na­tion­al Weath­er Ser­vice is part of NOAA.

Last week, an em­ploy­ee in An­chor­age, Alaska, in­scribed “PLEASE PAY US” in­to a weath­er fore­cast, a move that has caused some fal­lout with­in the agency, said Dan Sobi­en, the na­tion­al pres­id­ent of the Na­tion­al Weath­er Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees Or­gan­iz­a­tion.

“There’s a pretty high level of frus­tra­tion among people,” Sobi­en said. “Any time there’s a polit­ic­al dis­agree­ment in Wash­ing­ton, fed­er­al em­ploy­ees are get­ting kicked in the shins. That was the face of frus­tra­tion.”

Sobi­en ad­ded that the uni­on does not en­dorse what the em­ploy­ee did. He has heard, however, people with­in the or­gan­iz­a­tion and in oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies ex­press their sup­port, call­ing the em­ploy­ee “a hero.”

Loc­al news­pa­pers have picked up on the hu­mor of “es­sen­tial” versus “non­es­sen­tial” gov­ern­ment func­tions in light of the shut­down. After read­ing why weath­er fore­casts would con­tin­ue to be is­sued dur­ing the D.C. stan­doff, Ed­it­or Kurt Hildebrand of the small-town Nevada news­pa­per The Re­cord-Cour­i­er ed­it­or­i­al­ized in the print edi­tion:

“We’re still get­ting Na­tion­al Weath­er Ser­vice fore­casts, be­cause they’ve been deemed es­sen­tial due to the fact that we’re still get­ting weath­er. Ex­pect today’s weath­er to be sunny and cool with a high tem­per­at­ure of 57 de­grees. Wind will be out of the east at 10-15 mph, gust­ing to 25 mph.”

Jokes aside, em­ploy­ees at the Na­tion­al Weath­er Ser­vice are feel­ing the pock­et­book pain that has been ex­pressed by many fed­er­al agency em­ploy­ees await­ing paychecks. As for when Con­gress will ap­pro­pri­ate fund­ing, the fore­cast is bleak.

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