Sequester Cuts Funding for National Weather Service, First Responders

Sequestration has threatened to cut 8.2 percent of the budget for the National Weather Service (NWS), which warned Oklahomans 16 minutes before Monday’s deadly twister.

“The government runs the risk of significantly increasing forecast error and, the government’s ability to warn Americans across the country about high impact weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, will be compromised,” said Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank in a letter last week to Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-M.D.

The NWS Employees Organization president Daniel Sobien warned that, "People are going to be overworked, they're going to be tired, they're going to miss warnings. We're going to miss a tornado warning or some other thing." He said the March coverage of the D.C. snowstorm was lacking because forecasters were stretched thin.

"If we can find a way to exempt critical government services like meat inspection from the sequester, we should be able to find a way to keep NOAA forecaster positions filled. With spring break up and wildfire season approaching, we can't afford the number of forecaster vacancies that are anticipated in Alaska," Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alas., said in a statement.

The NWS reportedly was given $25 million in order to update its computer mapping system, upping it’s current computer power 25 times. Time science editor Jeffrey Kluger told “CBS This Morning: Saturday” that the money was given to the NWS because it has fallen far behind other countries in its ability to predict weather patterns.

"It's pocketchange compared to what we spend on other weather service satellites," Kluger said. "A single satellite is several hundred million dollars, so this is economical and a really effective way to get a bang for the buck."

But what about people? The NWS already has nearly a 10 percent employment vacancy rate.

A 16-minute warning to find shelter beats the 13-minute national average. Warning before the Texas tornadoes afforded people 26 minutes before the storms hit. Now many wonder, what if the NWS isn’t there to watch our backs next time?

Sources: Salon, CBS


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