Government weather forecast offices dangerously understaffed, workers say


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Meteorologists are sounding a major weather warning across the country this November as hundreds of weather-watching positions sit vacant.

The National Weather Service Employees Organization wants administrators to fill the nearly 700 openings at its offices, including five unfilled forecaster jobs in Raleigh. The NWS union cites Department of Commerce records which indicate about 13 percent of the 5,013 NWS positions are open.

The NWSEO said qualified people are applying but the higher-ups aren’t hiring. Raleigh forecaster and NWSEO representative Brandon Locklear said the local office is short-staffed even more, with only eight forecasters compared to a full roster of 13.

“We’ve had forecasters working 21 consecutive days, forecasters that have worked doubles, which is 18 and 20 hour shifts,” Locklear said.

“The threat of having to possibly work triples and quadruples due to other staff members getting sick,” Locklear said. “It’s becoming that the work life balance is really bad.”

The United States Government Accountability Office, which has the same leadership as it did under the previous two presidents, issued a 63-page report to members of Congress earlier this year. The research found the National Weather Service has taken some action to fill increasing vacancies, but it said there is much room for improvement.

The GAO said some National Weather Service employees said they were at times unable to complete key tasks and were experiencing stress and fatigue from their efforts to cover for vacancies.

The NWS union said this is jeopardizing the agency’s mission of saving lives and protecting property.

“At what cost is it going to take before they actually do something about it?” Locklear said.

“It’s just going to be a matter of time before the American people, the public, suffer, because we can only do so much.”

CBS North Carolina’s Bill Reh said the National Weather Service is essential to broadcast meteorologists, particularly during severe weather.

“They connect everybody together, and they’re the ones that produce the severe thunderstorm warnings and the tornado warnings. We’re all relying on them to let us know,” Reh said.

“So we can let the viewers at home know who’s got a tornado warning, who’s got a severe thunderstorm warning. So they’re vitally important.”

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are calling on President Trump to nominate and administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Weather Service.

However, the ongoing problem of staff shortages dates back to 2013, when NOAA had a hiring freeze following congressional budget cuts through sequestration. The freeze was lifted in 2014, but consistent hiring hasn’t happened.

Understaffed and overworked, the weather watchers are at wit’s end. Reh said without them, it can truly be a matter of life and death.

“Yeah, it can, because when they’ve got a tornado warning that’s going to affect people’s lives, they’ve got to be on top of it,” he said.

“The thing that concerns me is, obviously, with any sort of job and you’re short staffed and overworked, you might slip up on the job and not be able to be as thorough and things,” he said. “And that would be my concern, is are they really all there when they’re working?”

Locklear said that gets harder as time goes on, but he and his co-workers will do their best to protect the people they serve — everyone.

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