Obama’s 2013 Budget Cuts National Weather Service Information Officers

WASHINGTON, DC, February 13, 2012 (ENS) – Cuts to the National Weather Service’s 2013 budget proposed by the Obama Administration today would reduce the number of information technology officers at weather forecast offices across the nation, jeopardizing lives and safety in extreme weather events, warned theNational Weather Service Employees Organization.

“The ITO position is crucial to the lifesaving work of weather forecast offices,” said Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

“These are the guys who ensure our technology is working and our forecasts are accurate,” said Sobien. “Without an ITO on site, responses will be slower and lives will be lost during extreme weather events. This is an alarming move backwards when it comes to protecting the public.”

Dr. Jane Lubchenco visited the National Weather Service’s weather forecast office in Calera, Alabama, to thank the team for their outstanding around-the-clock work in advance of the April 2011 tornado outbreak. (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The National Weather Service is an agency within the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, and the warning from employees is in direct contrast to the statements of their boss, NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco.

“This budget allows NOAA to improve severe weather warnings by producing and delivering forecasts that Americans have come to trust, provide services in a cost-effective manner, and continue to reduce weather-related fatalities,” Lubchenco said today. “This budget also provides for continued timely advancement of the nation’s next-generation weather satellites.”

The budget provides $1.8 billion to continue the development and acquisition of NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary weather satellite systems, as well as satellite-borne measurements of sea level and potentially damaging solar storms. These satellites are critical to NOAA’s ability to provide accurate weather forecasts and warnings that help to protect lives and property.

But the President’s FY 2013 budget calls for a reduction of $39 million in funding for operations of the National Weather Service. Additional 2013 budget cuts propose eliminating research on improving hurricane intensity forecasts and the air quality forecasts.

“Seriously,” said Sobien on behalf of the National Weather Service employees, “With all of the money the government wastes, are we going to cut the people who are integral to the tornado warning process?”

“I think if the federal government can afford $39 million for the Blue Angels and $325 million for marching bands, it can afford $15 million to provide its citizens warnings of severe weather,” he said.

“It may not be this year or next, but if these cuts go through, the nation will see another Katrina-like event, and it could have been entirely preventable,” Sobien said.

But Luchenco’s statement held no hint of alarm. NOAA’s 2013 budget request to Congress of $5.1 billion, an increase of approximately $160 million, “aims to provide immediate life-saving and job-supporting services needed to prepare and protect American communities and infrastructure and invest in science and research that will enhance America’s competitiveness,” said the administrator. “NOAA’s services save lives and protect livelihoods.”

Lubchenco did acknowledge that more extreme weather events are happening more frequently.

“Last year (2011) rewrote the record books on extreme events,” she said. “From crippling snowstorms to the second deadliest tornado year on record, to epic floods, drought and heat and the third busiest hurricane season on record, we’ve witnessed the extreme of nearly every weather category. These events provided a sobering reminder about our vulnerability to the impacts of extreme weather and climate.”

Because information technology officers are meteorologists with IT skills, they are frequently used to cover shifts and assist weather forecast offices during severe weather, in addition to their regular duties.

During an emergency response, ITOs are crucial to a weather forecast office’s local ability to innovate immediate lifesaving products and services, said Sobien.

Lubchenco said the 2013 budget was not all she could have wished, “It includes tough choices and sacrifices made in the face of tightening budgets,” she said, “with valuable programs reduced or terminated to accommodate critical investments that could not be delayed to ensure we can meet national priorities.”

The National Weather Service assessments on the historic 2011 tornados across the Midwest and the 2010 Nashville flood event commended offices for having information technology officers on station during the event to help with weather and IT issues.

But Lubchenco could only say, “This budget allows us to maintain some of the core stewardship programs that our nation’s coastal communities have come to rely on, such as sustainable fisheries, marine sanctuaries and coastal management. We will work tirelessly to enhance our partnerships and find innovative solutions to conserve and protect our ocean and coastal resources.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.