Internal National Weather Service Report Reveals Dangerous Understaffing as
President Obama Cites Threats to Agency Funding
(June 30, 2011) President Obama warned that Congressional funding cuts could compromise the ability of the National Weather Service to protect American's safety during his June 29 news conference. However, the National Weather Service Employees Organization has obtained an internal report prepared for the Director of the National Weather Service that found that there are already "significant staff deficits" at the seven Weather Forecast Offices that issued warnings of the April 27 tornado outbreaks across the southeastern states.
The forecast offices involved are in Memphis, Nashville, and Morristown, Tennessee; Jackson, Mississippi; Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama and Peachtree City, Georgia. The attached report, titled "WFO Staffing Shortfall Verified" concludes that three to six additional meteorologists are needed at each of the National Weather Service's 122 forecast offices nationwide in order to be properly staffed during severe weather. According to the report, forecast offices are currently staffed only for "fair weather."
“Most of the forecasters responsible for working the radar and tornado watches and warnings worked consecutive days of extended shifts leaving little time for more than 5 or 6 hours of sleep before they returned to the stressful responsibility of saving lives the following day,” said Dan Sobien, President of the National Weather Service Employees Organization. “These meteorologists are directly responsible for sounding those lifesaving watches and warnings.” Sobien is a Lead Forecaster at the Tampa, FL, Forecast Office.
“In light of recent issues with air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job after a 10 hour shift turn around, this information shows that National Weather Service meteorologists had to work similar shifts during recent tornado outbreaks due to the staffing deficit,” Sobien said.
The Obama Administration acknowledges the need to fully fund the National Weather Service. Early in the June 29 news conference on the budget, President Obama included the National Weather Service among the essential government services, “We can’t get to the four trillion dollars in savings that we need by just cutting the 12 percent of the budget that pays for things like medical research, and education funding, and food inspectors, and the Weather Service. . .”
The President continued, “If we do not have those revenues then the kinds of cuts that would be required might compromise the National Weather Service; it means we would not be funding critical medical research; it means that food inspection might be compromised ."
Early in the June 27 White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "Because we have a choice here. For example, on the issue of revenues, do we perpetuate a system that allows for subsidies in revenues for oil and gas, for example, or owners of corporate private jets, and then call for cuts in things like food safety or weather services -- things that the federal government really does need to do on behalf of American citizens -- or do we look at everything and we take a balanced approach.”
The June 2 internal NWS report was prepared by the Southern region Headquarters of the NWS in Fort Worth, Texas, and is attached.