The National Weather Service is working on a deep organizational overhaul that includes everything from beefed-up forecasting technologies to embedding meteorologists with emergency managers and designating “green” weather days.
As part of a seven-point plan, the green weather days would be pre-planned for when the forecast includes a spat of clear and calm days when staffing can be more flexible, such as not having as many meteorologists on duty or having other weather forecasting offices fill in.
Currently, at least two forecasters must be working each shift at the nation’s 122 weather forecasting offices 24-hours per day.
The bottom line is the NWS wants forecasters to stop having to focus on the daily grind and minutia of putting together a forecast and be able to spend more time with customers, such as emergency managers, municipal leaders, farmers and law enforcement.
“Shift scheduling flexibility is very important,” notes in a Power Point presentation given earlier this month say. “We have many staff on shift when partners (emergency managers, etc.) do not need them.”
The changes are being made in an effort to deal with increasingly devastating weather events, aging infrastructure and a changing climate, and were made with the inclusion of NWS employees and meteorologists, said Susan Buchanan, a spokesman for the weather service.
Kathryn Sullivan, the administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will be at Florida International University today to discuss the evolution of the National Weather Service and review the collaboration efforts with emergency managers during Hurricane Matthew.
While seven proposals are on the table, three are being tackled first including using automated launchers for weather balloons and something called the “collaborative forecast process.”
The collaborative forecast would dole out a blended model forecast to all local offices, which could then elaborate on the central forecast, especially during emergency situations. Part of the current concern is that forecasts are not consistent between neighboring weather forecasting offices.
For example, on Tuesday a wind forecast valid Wednesday for Lubbock, Texas showed gusts as high as 24 mph, where as neighboring forecast offices were not making the same predictions.
“Our users have been telling us that consistency is as important as accuracy,” said David Ruth, acting director for the Meteorological Development Lab at the NWs. “You lose credibility if you provide a forecast that isn’t consistent.”
But Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, fears the use of a single forecast model for all offices is a step toward closing offices. NWS officials have been adamant that no offices are being closed, but some may no longer operate 24 hours.
“It’s pretty clear to us that all they want to do is close offices,” Sobien said. “How will they issue warnings and add value during severe weather if they’re not there.”
During a September presentation to NWS employees, a graphic was shown that marked offices where more capacity was needed for interacting with constituents. Miami, which covers Palm Beach County, was on the lower end of that scale while Tampa was at the higher end.
Florida has seven local forecasting offices.