Government shutdown may hurt hurricane forecasts

Government shutdown may hurt hurricane forecasts

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Once the government shutdown ends there will be a lot of catching up to do in many departments. While day-to-day forecasting goes uninterrupted, the time loss will never be regained by those who help keep us safe during hurricane season.

When severe weather hits, FOX 8 meteorologists strive to get you the latest information. The computer models, sensor data and radar imagery we rely on are all managed through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration departments, or NOAA.

“There are lots of meteorologists and scientists spread all across NOAA and the government, and all of this work is being shut down and stopped,” said FOX 8 Chief Meteorologist David Bernard.

Even the communications arm is stifled, only offering a statement from Director Julie Kay Roberts: “Much of NOAA National Weather Service operations are in excepted status and therefore remain in place to provide forecasts and warnings to protect life and property.”

That means forecasters are still showing up to work without pay.

“They serve the public day in and day out," Bernard said. "These people do not get rich from these government jobs. They’re doing it because they care about what they are doing, but now they’re doing it and they are not getting paid.”

Eric Blake is a specialist at the National Hurricane Center and spoke on behalf of the NWS employee union.

“This is the time of year when we’re really working hard on our hurricane preparedness outreach, education and our wrap-up of the 2018 season, but we really can’t do that," Blake said. "It’s not an essential function of the NWS, so all of those plans have kind of been put on hold.”

When it comes to research and other work to get ahead before next hurricane season, NHC employees are working without pay, but others are not working at all.

“Many of our partners aren’t," Blake said. "The National Ocean Service is totally furloughed. We get all the data for storm surge there.“

"The biggest meteorology convention every year, the American Meteorological Society annual meeting was in January, and they were missing most if not all of the government workers that attend that,” Bernard said.

“Usually around 4,000 meteorologists gather, and the Hurricane Center was unable to attend. This is really our main time for research and development, sharing our ideas,” Blake said.

Using the previous season’s storms and tweaking models based on what actually happened improves forecasts.

“The Environmental Modeling Center in Washington D.C., they are the main source of operational model forecasts for the United States, and they’re totally shut down except for one person," Blake said. "Every few days we lose is another potential advancement.”

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