LA CROSSE, Wis. — The forecast calls for a chance of cuts to the National Weather Service under the sequestration woes still plaguing Washington.

That could mean less accurate storm predictions and even jeopardize the service’s ability to warn the public about dangerous weather.

It’s unlikely the weather service headquarters in La Crosse would face layoffs or close, but that doesn’t mean the office — and the accuracy of its predictions — will escape

$50 million in weather service cuts unscathed.

It’s here in a room of brightly colored maps and flashing grids where meteorologists and hydrologists determine forecasts for counties spanning three states.

“At this point, we just don’t know what the impacts will be,” said Glenn Lussky, the meteorologist in charge of the

La Crosse office.

It is clear, however, that cuts will bite into an already-tight budget at the national agency.

The weather service has “been underfunded for a while,” said Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization. “Now we are being asked to cut another

$50 million out of that.”

Sobien estimated that forecasting models could become 30 percent less accurate.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that the model is going to be wrong 30 percent of the time,” he said, “(but) 30 percent of the time, the models will be less accurate.”

Lussky cautioned against drawing early conclusions.

“Regardless of what happens, we’re going to do what we have to to preserve the services we currently provide,” he said.

No official cuts have been announced, but Sobien said they’ll almost certainly affect satellite programs and weather balloon launches.

Both methods of collections produced data to create atmospheric models, which Sobien called “a mathematical model of the atmosphere.”

La Crosse doesn’t launch weather balloons. The nearest office that does is in the Twin Cities, where twice-daily collections would be cut to once a day.

“The whole world relies on the data from those,” Sobien said.

La Crosse uses satellite data and sounding data (collected by weather balloons) in its models.

“There’s a great deal of other data we’re incorporating in,” said Lussky, La Crosse’s lead meteorologist.

The Commerce Department letter also states that 2,600 employees will be furloughed, 2,700 vacant positions will not be filled, and contractors will be reduced.

Sobien said an official hiring freeze is likely. La Crosse has had one position already vacant for three months.

The letter continues, “there would be significant impacts in NOAA’s ability to meet its mission to preserve Americans’ property, protect lives, prepare for extreme weather events, adapt to a changing world, and to enhance economic prosperity.“

Sobien noted that imprecise weather forecast could negatively affect agriculture, transportation, and several other areas of the economy. He called the risk of severe weather and hurricane forecasts “potentially catastrophic.”

“The cost to everyone is going to be way more than a few million dollars in savings,” he said.

For now, the La Crosse office is stuck playing the waiting game. Without a federal budget and tethered to sequester-related legislation, its current funding plan ends March 27.

“Something’s going to have to happen,” Lussky said.

(10) comments

howiechowdermuff

Haha hahaha... Doubt it.

howiechowdermuff

Welcome to the private sector... It's a darn shame that money can't be printed to sustain the level of guesstimation we've all grown accustomed to. Maybe suck it up like we non Union folks do and work some extra hours off the clock because it's needed not because you're compensated.

mississippiriverrat

Just $8 of your taxes goes to fund the NWS. The Department of Defense spends the entire National Weather Service's budget in a half a day.

Emil

Thank you rat. does the NWS sell their data to airports etc...or is it free to any and all?

mississippiriverrat

Since the tax payers already pay for this service through their tax dollars ($8 per year), all of the forecasts, models, and the data is available for anyone for no additional cost on the Internet. This includes the airports. I access their data all of the time from their web sites. This fits their primary mission to save lives and help protect the economy from weather damage. However with this said, some of the high end private weather enterprise, which require large data amounts and specialized services, do pay for these specialized data feeds. This is to pay for the additional cost of the distribution of this type data. I have occasional seen some private companies take the routine NWS information word for word off their web site and sell it to their subscribers.

justareader

Forecaster on Monday morning: You may have been surprised by our weekend weather, especially if you watched my forecast on Friday.

Troller
Troller

So what does this mean? NOAA will miss the payments on their equipment and it will be repossessed? Will the weather stations go into foreclosure? Do the repo guys have to go into outer space to retrieve the satellites?

What crock! The weather stone hanging from the string on my porch even manages to get it right 50% of the time.

More scare tactics. We, the evil Republicans, are not only out to kill the old and the poor, now we want your house to blow down with you in it. Ostensibly because we will make more money, we greedy lot.

mississippiriverrat

This means that the equipment (such as the observations that come from the airports, radar, and even weather satellites) may not be able to be fixed right away. This could potentially create delays in commercial flights. During the last budget cuts, a wind profiler in Blue Ridge Wisconsin was not fixed. When in operation, this equipment was of great use when trying to forecast severe weather.

Emil

Sounds like one of those Tim Pawlenty user fees might be in order. Who uses the data from the weather service?

mississippiriverrat

Quite a few people use the National Weather Service data. Besides the general weather forecasts for the next 7 days, they issue forecasts for aviation (from commercial to private pilots), boaters, fire weather, and agriculture. All of the data that you see on your TV broadcasts such as the current conditions, radar, satellite, or even the data that they show from their computer models come from the NWS. They also are the only ones that can issue severe weather watches, warnings, and advisories.

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