A Herculean overhaul of the nearly 150-year-old National Weather Service is raising hackles as talk of moving local forecasting hubs, cutting office hours and shuffling meteorological duties moves forward.
The revamp, no small feat for an organization that just this year was able to incorporate lower-case letters into forecast discussions, is aimed at saving lives during such extreme weather events as hurricanes, according to administrators of the 5,000-employee service.
During a Friday presentation of possible changes, NWS Director Louis W. Uccellini and Deputy Director Laura Furgione emphasized that none of the 122 local forecasting offices will be closed, but the service’s “evolution” could include:
• Reducing staff at some offices while increasing it at others depending on weather events or population, including bolstering some offices during tourist season.
• Moving offices so they are closer to emergency operations centers and reducing office hours so some sites are no longer 24/7.
• Using more automated systems, such as to launch the twice-daily weather balloons that sample upper atmospheric conditions.
• Shifting some forecasting duties to regional offices or national hubs so that local meteorologists can work more closely with emergency managers and municipal officials.
“This is about our cookie-cutter structure and getting away from the one-size-fits-all model so that our resources will be located where they need to be,” Furgione said. “All of our offices are manned 24/7 even when our partners don’t need us there and the weather is not demanding.”
But Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, said that many of the changes will degrade services, including taking daily forecasting duties away from local offices in the name of presenting a “consistent” message.
Florida has six local forecasting offices, including one in Miami, which covers Palm Beach County.
“They will turn local experts into weather briefers who will just be telling people about what someone in Washington, D.C., decided about the weather,” Sobien said. “You will no longer be able to get the opinion of the best forecaster in the area, who knows the area.”
Why this isn’t just a benign fact and how South Florida was directly impacted earlier this year is in the rest of the story on MyPalmBeachPost.com