Feds query National Weather Service vacancies as severe storms hit nation

The General Accountability Office opened an inquiry last month into vacancies at the National Weather Service after concerns from elected officials that forecasters are being stretched too thin, even as lives are threatened by El Nino-fortified severe weather.

Miami’s weather service office, which is responsible for a six-county area and about 6 million people, has one of the highest number of vacancies nationwide, according to the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

The office is running with about 60 percent of its operating staff, says the union, which counts eight empty or soon-to-be vacant positions in Miami among those responsible for alerting when storms, like the five tornadoes that hit Florida this month, are possible.

“We were lucky the tornadoes largely impacted the Tampa and Melbourne forecast offices’ area of responsibility,” said Dan Sobien, the union’s president. “In both events, the worst of the weather went in between (Tallahassee and Miami).”

Tallahassee has six vacant jobs or pending vacancies, whereas Tampa and Melbourne are more fully staffed, Sobien said. In 122 weather forecasting offices nationwide, there are about 280 non-management weather service vacancies, according to the union.

It is a situation of enough concern that weather offices in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast assembled a “Crisis Communication Guidebook” that included specific instructions on how to respond to the media when a severe weather warning is missed because of low staffing.

“I do worry that National Weather Service staff working 12-hour, 18-hour and even longer shifts will make a mistake due to exhaustion,” Sobien said. “Having said that, you will not find more dedicated Employees than those of the NWS.”

To read more about the vacancy concerns and why staffing matters please see the full story here in The Palm Beach Post. 

A car is damaged along Southeast Coconut Street in Hobe Sound after a powerful storm passed through. (Courtesy Martin County Sheriff's Office)

A car is damaged along Southeast Coconut Street in Hobe Sound after a powerful storm passed through. (Courtesy Martin County Sheriff’s Office)

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