National Weather Service facing serious budget cuts

Dan Sobien
Dan Sobien
Rep. Brett Guthrie
Rep. Brett Guthrie
Kevin Harned
Kevin Harned

By Connie Leonard - bio | email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – It is an agency whose mission is to save lives, but now it is fighting to save its own. With the promise of sweeping federal budget cuts, the National Weather Service is facing one of the biggest hits with about 30 percent of its budget at risk. If the cuts are approved, it could have a big impact in the Louisville area and local workers would be out of a job for a month.

"Public safety is in jeopardy," said Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

Be it wind, snow, or rain, the goal of NWS is to keep you safe during severe weather. However, there may be cuts coming just in time for tornado season.

"The Republicans in the House are very intent on cutting spending," said Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY 2nd).

A resolution by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY 5th), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has weather watchers sounding off on social networking sites like Facebook. As part of proposed budget cuts, $126 million, or roughly 30 percent of the NWS budget in the last half of 2011, would be slashed. Guthrie told us that when you can't cut Social Security, Medicare and defense, sometimes you are forced to cut other good programs.

"If we're going to get a $1.4 trillion annual deficit under control, it is going to take substantial cuts and we're focused on doing it in the most responsible way," said Guthrie.

Through Skype, Sobien told us the move doesn't make economic sense. Without the most accurate weather information, Sobien says everything from large farms to mining operations, airline travel and shipping will suffer.

"The effects will be astronomical, it will cost us a lot more than the $126 million than they are saving out of the budget that's for sure," said Sobien.  "It's dangerous because it's risking lives."

Twenty-two NWS offices would close for 27 days in a rolling blackout and employees would not get paid. If the Louisville office is shut down during severe weather, Louisville meteorologists would have to rely on offices in the region like Paducah, Nashville, or Indianapolis for information to base their forecasts on.

"If you start shutting down weather offices across the country, we're going to be missing some of that data," said WAVE 3 Chief Meteorologist Kevin Harned.

Just how big of an impact could it be? Harned says it's too early to tell, but in the River City, it could be problematic with no specialists to consult during a flood.

"It's vital in situations when it comes to any type of river flooding and it would be vital in any type of severe weather event," Harned said.

With the bill moving onto the Senate, Sobien is urging Kentuckians concerned about the issue to contact Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.

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