4:15 PM Wednesday Update... I just got off the phone with Senator Mark Pryor. He says he will vote against the House budget bill in its current form. He tells me he understands the need for the National Weather Service to keep the people of Arkansas informed when severe weather hits.
The Senator says he understands the need to cut the budget and spending and hopes to work in a bipartisan way in the Senate to find a sensible alternative that does not have huge consequences. He thinks there will be substantial modification to the current bill.
He also points out the cuts need to be made in the normal budget process and not cram it in to the next few months.
For Senator Boozman's response, read below.
1:30 PM Wednesday Update... I asked Senator Boozman's office for a statement regarding HR 1 and the proposed budget cuts to the National Weather Service office. I told his office many Arkansans are concerned the local office will shut down during severe weather season. Below is a statement I just received. I also asked Senator Pryor's office and have not heard from them yet.
"Senator Boozman is committed to providing Arkansans with the resources they need to stay safe in times of dangerous weather conditions but understands that this must be done in a fiscally responsible manner. The bottom line is the government needs to balance the budget and spend less money. The people of Arkansas know we can’t continue to take in $2.2 trillion and spend $3.7 trillion. This is unsustainable and Senator Boozman is looking forward to being part of the discussions in the coming weeks as to how taxpayer dollars are spent while getting our fiscal house in order."
YOU CAN READ TWO SIDES OF THE STORY RIGHT HERE ON THE ARKANSAS WEATHER BLOG. ( I still refuse to take sides... not my job. I think this blog is a great way for people to express their opinion on the matter and I want the debate to continue).
Read the perspective from a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Office in North Little Rock. CLICK HERE.
Read another perspective by clicking on the white bar above... "Ninja's Corner"
9 AM Monday Update... Here's an email I received from a retired NWS meteorologist, George Wilken. He wanted me to post his thoughts here.
"The National Weather Service back in the 1970s had a total continental United States contingent of around 5000 employees. At present, the employment level is closer to 3500. Centralization and decentralization of offices has taken place in the past, but the current structure is deemed to be the most economical and serves the public better. Offices have been placed based on the location of the Doppler radars and the coverage pattern of the Dopplers. Proposals to temporarily or permanently close offices have been made in the past, but they were scrubbed due to public safety concerns. What has changed to make that position different? NOTHING.
A test case was also tried to allow someone other that the Weather Service (private firms created to issue warnings) to issue warnings. This turned into chaos and was quickly scrubbed. It turned into "I can issue more warnings than you can" contest. The NWS is the only weather warning agency, by act of Congress.
As far as another office taking over for around a month. The emergency structure where one office can operate in lieu of another being off-line is difficult to sustain for more than a week at a time. More staff has to be brought in at the adjacent office to cover the office that is closed. This poses a strain on the adjacent office and creates overtime. To not bring in more employees to cover the situation is to lessen coverage and raises the threat of public safety to a maximum. And, how is paying overtime saving money?
A typical Warning and Forecast Office in the National Weather Service works on electronics which work better when they are operating around the clock. To shut down a computer for nearly a month or to expect every electronic device to work flawlessly (without maintenance staff on hand) is kidding one's self. If a massive outbreak of severe weather occurred, it would take some effort to get all the electronics up and operating properly if an office were reactivated for the event. Given the time it takes to do this, it would be too late.
The typical office also has only so many workstations for warnings to be issued. If a massive outbreak occurs, an adjacent office covering a closed office would be quickly overwhelmed. Yes, another office can wade in to help, but familiarity of a county warning area is a highly desirable condition.
Can a few jobs be put on furlough or employees take lesser periods of time off and keep the office operating? It is difficult to start and stop your duties as weather forecaster. Weather offices are open 24 hours for a reason and especially in Arkansas,weather does not take a break, including severe weather of all kinds, including winter weather.
I worked the 1997 and 1999 tornado outbreaks in Arkansas. I shudder to think of how many would have died if timely warnings (some as much as 30 minutes before the event) were not issued. An adjacent office cannot closely watch another area and are not as familiar with an area as the parent office, including communications with city, county and state officials.
Yes, we all probably should take our lumps together as far as reducing the budget. However, I don't understand how handcuffing an agency like the National Weather Service will provide the budget relief expected. All it will serve is to produce a very dangerous situation for many people in very active severe weather states like Arkansas."
George R. Wilken
Science & Operations Officer (Meteorologist) - Retired
3 PM Sunday Update...Just wanted to clarify and respond to a post in the comment section from a former NWS meteorologist. As part of the media, in my opinion, it would be inappropriate to inject my opinion in what is ultimately a political issue. I never said I could take up the slack below. There's no way any one person could attempt to do that. I debated with myself to even put this topic on the blog. I wanted to get into the conversation because of fear generated in various social media outlets that I thought needed to be addressed. I find it very hard to believe tornadic supercells crossing the state will go unwarned. I just don't think it will ever come to that.
One more point I will bring up for debate... Because local NWS meteorologists are very familiar with specific local terrain, small towns, recreation areas, etc. they were able to issue flash flood warnings when the Camp Albert Pike flood event happened last June. Do you think a meteorologist at another office would have that local knowledge?
I will start off by admitting that I haven't read the legislation and I will not take sides. As a member of the media, when it comes to political issues, it's my professional duty to stay neutral.
I know most of the meteorologists at the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock and they are by far the most talented and professional office I have ever dealt with in my career. I have worked in 3 television markets and have dealt with many offices in my 13 years of broadcasting. The North Little Rock office is always friendly, responsive to questions, and do a fantastic job of issuing warnings when severe weather hits the Natural State.
The last thing I want to see are furloughs, cut backs, etc for them and their families. It's something many have experienced in the economic downturn and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.
If the office is shut down for a month, I highly doubt it would ever happen during severe weather season. IF it does shut down, there are 4 other offices which control part of Arkansas. One of those would take over. There is precedent for this. On April 3rd, 2008, a tornado was approaching the office in North Little Rock and they took cover. While in their safe place, the National Weather Service office in Memphis took over responsibility for issuing warnings until it was safe for the staff at North Little Rock to resume. I also recall the same happening with the office in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. In the event our local weather service office cannot issue warnings, the primary back up is Memphis. If for some reason Memphis is not able to issue warnings, the secondary backup is Tulsa, OK, and the 3rd is Birmingham, AL.
What if NEXRAD radar goes does during a severe weather event and no one is able to repair it? This is definitely a problem, but there are options. While radars in Fort Smith, Shreveport, and Memphis can be utilized, accuracy is compromised by large distances away from thunderstorms. To the best of my knowledge, all local television stations, including KATV Channel 7, have operational live radars in central Arkansas.
The purpose for this blog post is to calm fears. Most of you who visit the blog are very passionate about weather. When word of these POSSIBLE cutbacks got out, I think it naturally brings fear of the unknown. I strongly feel if the cutbacks become reality, severe weather warnings will still be issued in a timely manner. Also no matter what happens, KATV will ALWAYS be on the air when tornado warnings are issued in our viewing area.
Whether you are for or against the proposed cuts, call your Senator, Representative, etc. It's your government.