Budget Cut Storm Hits National Weather Service


The National Weather Service is in the eye of a budget storm—one that has the potential to grow into a Category 5.

A bill in the House of Representatives is proposing to cut the National Weather Service's 2011 budget by reportedly 30 percent or about $126 million. The proposal is part of the Full Year Continuing Resolution Act.

If the act is passed, the reduction could take effect as early as next month.

Joseph Calderone has been a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Charleston, South Carolina since 2002. He's a member of the National Weather Services Employees Organization. Calderone says the House needs to put the deep freeze on the plan.

"There is a very heightened risk for loss of life if these cuts go through. The inability for warnings to be disseminated to the public, whether due to staffing inadequacies, radar maintenance problems or weather radio transmitter difficulties, would be disastrous," said Calderone.

Calderone warns sectors such as aviation, utilities, agriculture, transportation, and insurers would get a direct hit from the National Weather Service cutbacks.

"If these cuts go through, there is the potential that 22 local Weather Forecast Offices (such as our own) would be closed for 27 days and this would continue over a five month period," said Calderone. "The national centers, such as the Storm Prediction Center and the National Hurricane Center, would go to reduced workweeks."

Just four days ago, a movement to fight the cuts was mobilized on Facebook. A page called "Protect the National Weather Service" was started by a National Hurricane Center employee. It has since been taken over by the National Weather Service's union. It already has about 2200 "likes."

The House Budget Committee did not respond to our requests for a statement on the measure. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which runs the National Weather Service, has not returned our calls either.

National Weather Service Employees Organization President Daniel Sobien said, "What concerns me a little bit is that NOAA and the National Weather Service public employees have not been making any public comments about this. Maybe it's because they want to keep negotiations open."

But, the Obama administration did issue us statement in response to the House's proposal to cut funds to the National Weather Service.

It said, "If the President is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions.... the President will veto the bill."

President Obama's 2012 budget plan includes funding cuts to NOAA. But, it does not include any reductions to the National Weather Service itself. In fact, there are increases allotted for upgrades and maintenance of "key observing systems."

Until there's a decision on whether to downgrade the plan or keep the reductions off shore, the National Weather Service is closely monitoring the House budget's track. If the cutbacks are passed, they would be the biggest financial blow to the service in decades.

Stephanie is Squawk Box producer and senior NetNet retail correspondent. Follow her on twitter @StephLandsman

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