Budget Cuts Could Affect Weather Forecasts

People may not think of budget cuts as a matter of life and death, but one proposal could affect your safety.

"It's very dangerous.  Somebody's gonna die somewhere.  We're gonna miss tornado warnings.  hurricane warnings aren't gonna be as accurate," said Dan Sobien, President of the National Weather Service Employee Organization.

For the last 3 days, the U.S. House of Representatives has been debating a bill with nearly 600 amendments that deal with cost cutting measures.  Among other things, it would slash funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.  The 30% cut could end up affecting you when it comes to weather situations.

"It would set us back at least 20 years as far as forecasting," said Skywarn 6 Meteorologist Ben Walnick.

NOAA, which has had a flat budget for more than 10 years, is trying to find ways to deal with the potential loss of $126 million.  Sobien says internal NOAA documents show one possibility would be the rotating closure of 20 or so of the National Weather Service centers for a month at a time, forcing furloughs upon NWS employees.

Virtually every broadcast meteorologist uses information provided by the NWS in their forecasting.  Walnick says cuts could also mean the closure of weather reporting sites all over Texoma, and much less-frequent use of NWS weather balloons, which are critical in issuing watches and warnings.

"We've made a lot of progress in the last 15-20 years in being able to give accurate forecasts and protecting people from severe weather.  That's data we're not gonna have anymore.  As far as doing the forecast hours before a storm hits, it's gonna be difficult," Walnick said.

Representative Mac Thornberry says he doesn't see the reduced funding as a major forecasting setback.

"This bill tries to take spending back to what it was just three years ago, and as I recall, the world did not fall apart that year," he said.

But Sobien says Congress didn't account for the rise in prices.  He also says the mentioned changes only account for about a third of the proposed cuts, which ultimately affect everyone.

"An accurate weather forecast affects every aspect of our economy, whether it's you wanna pour concrete to huge mega farms.  Another example is your homeowner's insurance," he said.

Thornberry also says the NWS can look for funding in other areas of NOAA.

"They can move money around within the account to make sure that the most important functions related to public safety are fully funded and at whatever level they need to be," he said.

Sobien, however says that wouldn't be feasible, and a transfer request would have to be approved by Congress, anyway.

The bill is still being debated in the House.  Representatives plan to vote on it before leaving tonight.