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January 17, 2018 Fairbanks, Alaska - National Weather Service Reductions to Hit Rural Alaska
MONDAY: CRIST SPEAKING TO NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE EMPLOYEES
St. Petersburg, FL — On Monday, Congressman Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) will be the keynote speaker at the National Weather Service Employees Organization's annual convention. He will speak to the urgent need to keep this important agency fully staffed and funded, thanking employees for their critical work this hurricane season. Crist is a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee that oversees the National Weather Service.
Northeast’s Busiest Airports Operate with Aviation Forecast Office Closures
Due to NWS Vacancies
(January 10, 2017) The National Weather Service aviation offices that provide forecasts for New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.’s airspace were closed during busy daytime travel over the holidays, jeopardizing the safety of the flying public. The closures continue as four aviation forecast offices continue to juggle shifts, doubling the size of airspace they watch as they substitute for each other due to severe staffing shortages.
NWS Center Weather Service Units (CWSU) are aviation forecast offices embedded at each of the FAA’s Air Route Traffic Control Centers. NWS aviation meteorologists at the CWSUs prepare specialized airspace forecasts, watches, and warnings for air traffic and safety. They communicate these forecasts directly to FAA air traffic control managers. These face-to-face, on-the-spot briefings are vital to helping air traffic controllers safely and efficiently route traffic, especially during thunderstorms, snow, and conditions that cause icing on aircrafts’ wings.
Four aviation meteorologists are assigned to each CWSU, to cover operations 16 hours a day, 365 days a year. Due to the a staffing shortage and NWS hiring slowdown, only two of these four “Emergency Essential” aviation meteorologist positions are filled at the New York CWSU. As a result of this 50 percent vacancy rate, the New York CWSU closed the entire unit from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on December 25, 2016; the unit was also closed for four to eight hour shifts on Dec. 23, 24, and the first week of January. During this time, the aviation meteorologist responsible for covering Washington DC and surrounding areas had to double his watch to include forecasting the airspace for both New York south to the Caribbean over the Atlantic. The Washington D.C. CWSU is dealing with its own staffing shortage, operating with only three aviation meteorologists. Shortages in both New York and Washington D. C. means air traffic controllers are also relying on the Cleveland CWSU to expand their forecasts to cover for shifts that are closed along the east coast.
The airports served by the New York CWSU and Washington D.C. CWSU include: John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia, Long Island MacArthur, Newark Liberty International, Philadelphia International, Washington Dulles International, Ronald Reagan National, Baltimore Washington International, and smaller airports. The CWSUs also provide aviation forecasts for military airspace. Aviation meteorologist are so vital to public safety that the positions are “Emergency Essential” and must show up for work in an emergency situation, severe weather or a work furlough.
“The NWS is putting the flying public at risk by keeping these positions vacant,” said NWSEO Executive Vice President Bill Hopkins. “They are asking one person to take on the responsibility for the airspace of two major regions of the country. The degradation of service is threatening the flying public. There are no plans for an emergency. Who are they going to call for back-up when they’ve made operating on back-up the norm?”
Air traffic controllers in New York share these concerns. In November, a New York air traffic control manager wrote to Kevin Johnson, the FAA’s Chief Meteorologist in Washington DC:
“Having less than 4 mets at ZNY CWSU to me is not acceptable but going to 2 is out of the question and unsafe. With the vast amount of airspace we operate in, including a large portion of the Atlantic Ocean we need that weather information from the mets. This is a safety matter to me…"
The National Weather Service is experiencing a staffing crisis nationwide with a 16 percent vacancy rate. In 2016, a very successful program designed to increase air travel safety and efficiency was eliminated in Chicago due to staffing shortages; the Government Accountability Office is investigating the NWS staffing levels at the request of Congress.
December 30, 2016 - Palm Beach Post
Weather Service employees fear hiring freeze, tout jobs as life-savers
December 9, 2016 - Washington Post
December 9, 2016 - Tampa Bay Times
December 8, 2016
News Release from PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)
Stealth Weather Service Forecasting Downsize
Far Fewer Local Weather Forecasters Limited to Working “Business Hours”
NWSEO's Work to Keep the Local Forecasts
NWSEO News Release - National Weather Service Discloses Plans to Move away from Local Forecasts –
Move to Part Time Offices
News Stories on NWS plans to Move away from Local Forecasts –
Move to Part Time Offices
October 27, 2016 NBC KXAN Austin, Texas - National Weather Service Blasted for Moving away from Local Forecasts
October 27, 2016 KYUK Yokon, Alaska - NWS Announces changes their services near future
October 23, 2016 Palm Beach Post, Florida - Weather Service says increase in severe events is forcing changes
NWS Presentation to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce in July 2016 details Plans to Downsize the NWS
(December 5, 2016) NWS Director Dr. Uccellini and Deputy Director Laura Furgione provided specific details on downsizing weather forecast offices and moving many offices to part-time operations in a PowerPoint presentation to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce in July 2016. Please note that this presentation was made two months prior to the September 28 and 29 All Hands OWA call to employees.
In the presentation, please note of Slides 23 and 25:
Slide 23 - IDSS and Warning and Staff Workload - Office size by location - only 40 of the 122 NWS Weather Forecast Offices will retain responsibility for issuing warnings of severe weather.
Slide 25 - Office size by range by locations with responsibilities
Please review the entire presentation. Here are a few more highlights from the presentation:
Slide 3 – “Stall tactics on CBA Renegotiation continue from NWSEO” – The only times negotiations were stalled were the three times the NWS declared impasse and refused to bargain.
Slide 6 - Documents that the NWS has been losing far more staff every year than they are backfilling.
Slide 9. - “Many field and HQ vacancies, critical to the successor Evolve, remain unfilled, increasing risk and overtaxing workforce as they attempt to fill critical gaps.”
Slide 15 – “Local staff operate business hours to match their partners” instead of the current 24/7/365 model”
As always, we appreciate your support of NWSEO. Membership is the strength of our professional organization.
National Weather Service Discloses Plans to Move away from Local Forecasts –
Move to Part Time Offices
(October 21, 2016) Instead of filling more than 600 vacancies, the National Weather Service announces plans to eliminate the work of local forecasters and distribute forecasts and guidance produced by a Washington D.C. Center. Local forecasts, prepared with the expertise of local meteorologists, will give way automated forecasts based largely on computer models. The plan will lead to a degradation of service with local weather forecast office hours reduced from the current 24/7/365 schedule to part-time and in some cases, possibly seasonal operations.
The expertise of local forecasters is critical to the National Weather Service's mission of saving lives. Each geographic region has its own unique weather patterns. Local forecasters understand these patterns and apply this knowledge to the computer models. Their intimate knowledge of these weather patterns, the geographic region, the flood prone areas, and the demographics of people whose lives they protect are critical to their lifesaving work.
The NWS’s new plans would change the role of the local meteorologist from using their expertise and knowledge of local weather patterns to a "weather briefer" who is no longer responsible for the forecast, but instead disseminates information from the Washington Center. The plan also mentions the use of flexible staffing that could include migrant meteorologists who travel to locations based on severe weather needs; a position that negates the value of local expertise, knowledge of unique local weather patterns, and familiarity with the geographic location and flood prone areas.
One of the most critical problems of relying on national center forecasts is the disconnect that would develop between the largely centralized “forecast” and the local weather patterns, cultural, and geographical information that local forecasters provide. Forecasters would be routinely placed in a compromising position of having to choose between a briefing based on an official/centralized forecast with which they disagreed, or briefing based on their own judgment informed by extensive local knowledge. It is the National Weather Service Employees Organization’s stand that the ownership of the forecast must be at the final point of delivery.
“When severe weather hits your area, do you want the information coming from someone who lives and works in the community, who understands the unique weather patterns, who has the historical knowledge of how weather impacts the area and flood zones because they work with this data everyday – or would you want your information from a Washington D.C. bureaucracy or even a traveling forecaster shipped in, someone who is learning about the patterns as they commute to your location?” asked NWSEO President Dan Sobien.
Weather Experts agree that ownership of the forecast must be at the final point of delivery. The NWS’s new ideas are a far contrast from the NWS Modernization in 2000 which stressed the work of local forecasters; the ideas are against the National Academy of Public Administration’s recommendations to Congress in 2013, and conflict with the research from the 2012 National Research Council’s report, “Weather Services for the Nation: Becoming Second to None” (National Academies Press, 2012) stating, “local knowledge of phenomena, terrain, and infrastructure is an important factor in forecasting, and it needs to be accounted for in any potential regionalization of functions.”
The National Weather Service Employees Organization has provided a clear vision of how the NWS should evolve to meet the ever-expanding need for local, regional, and national forecasting, as well as the support services for NWS partners such as emergency managers, local and state government. NWSEO’s vision stresses that the NWS must ensure that the provision of accurate, timely, and locally-focused weather forecasts and warnings are maintained at the current high level. These experts know and understand unique local forecasting challenges and the impacts those challenges may have on the safety and lives of people residing in their local communities.
“Removing the local forecaster out of this equation, diminishes the greatest factor in the success of the NWS’s lifesaving mission, which is direct service to the taxpayers in the communities in where they live,” said NWSEO President Dan Sobien. “Unfortunately, nature never does what a computer model wants it to do. The centralized forecast plan is putting lives at risk.”
July 14, 2016 NBC 5 Dallas - Computer Outage Disrupts National Weather Service Offices Nationwide Scott Gordon reporting for NBC 5 Dallas
A massive nationwide computer outage on Wednesday prevented the National Weather Service from distributing important warnings and other basic information to pilots, boaters, and the public
July 13, 2016 - Washington Post - Weather Service suffers "major network issue," warning system compromised.
"It appears the entire NWS is dead in the water,” said Dan Sobien, president of the Weather Service’s labor union. “I don’t know if anything is getting out.” Sobien said the outage prevented standard dissemination of at least two severe thunderstorm warnings in the central United States and a flood warning in the Midwest.
Congresswoman Gwen Graham visits the Tallahassee Weather Forecast Office to Highlight the beginning of 2016 Hurricane Season
June 1, 2016:
Weather-related Flight Delays to Increase due to Job Cuts at NWS Chicago
February 12, 2016: Chicago Tribune: Meteorologists union warns of more flight delays in Chicago because of cutbacks
February 9, 2016: Federal Soup Union: Just a few job cuts will harm Chicago air traffic
Weather-related Flight Delays to Increase due to Job Cuts at NWS Chicago
(February 8, 2016) Understaffing at the Chicago National Weather Service office is poised to slow down national air travel. Chicago airports are the first to see the effects of National Weather Service’s decision to eliminate aviation meteorologists who are dedicated to provide weather forecasts and alerts for O’Hare International Airport and Chicago Midway International Airport, and to the FAA in managing flights in and out of the Chicago area.
Aviation meteorologists, who work at the Chicago Area Forecast Office in Romeoville, Illinois, have been credited by the National Weather Service for cutting in half the number of weather related air traffic delays in the Chicago area since the program started in 2010. The NWS started the “Golden Triangle Initiative” aviation-weather project dedicated to air travel in Chicago, New York City, and Atlanta to enhance safety and better serve the flying public nationwide. The three aviation meteorologists in Chicago work a rotating shift to alert airports and the FAA of weather changes that have the potential to interrupt aviation operations. This project is credited for an immediate reduction of weather related air traffic delays in the Chicago area by more than 50 percent. Chicago, Atlanta, and New York City were selected for this initiative because they have a huge national airspace. Weather delays at these hub airports will cause a lag in flights nationwide.
“I am deeply troubled by the NWS’s recent short-sighted actions regarding aviation meteorologists,” stated Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3). “As the most senior member from Illinois on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, and a member of the Aviation subcommittee, my top priority has been and always will be the public’s safety. It has been proven that these employees are essential personnel, improving safety and overall efficiency.
“By abolishing this essential initiative, the National Weather Service is regressing in its service to the traveling public and flight safety,” said NWSEO President Dan Sobien. “The cost savings and improved travel times, directly related to aviation forecasters at these airports is well documented.”
The National Weather Service is understaffed nationwide, with a vacancy rate of 16 percent. Most of the vacant positions are identified as “emergency essential” meaning the employee must show up for work, even in severe weather or emergency situation. Instead of filling these “emergency essential” positions, NWS management is doubling up on duties or eliminating key projects such as the Golden Triangle. In Chicago, the three aviation forecaster positions are now being used to fill two forecaster vacancies. This means that the aviation forecasters will have to abandon their work with the airports and with the FAA in order to concentrate on weather forecasting duties for the city of Chicago and the surrounding areas.
Initial forecasting statistics since the elimination of the program in late January 2016 show the accuracy of IFR forecasts (ceiling and visibility) has already fallen 20 percent and the IFR “false alarm rate” (predicting something that does not occur) has risen 22 percent.
“Every year since 2010, the Chicago aviation meteorologists have been recognized for surpassing national goals in forecasting for air travel. Just last year, we were recognized as the best in the nation for our timing of forecasting critically low clouds and visibility,” said Gino Izzi, the NWSEO Steward in Chicago/Romeoville Weather Forecast Office. “The degradation of service for the cost of two employees is insane, particularly in light of the huge successes of the Golden Triangle Initiative so far.”
Contact: Lisa Luciani
Director of Communications/Media Relations
National Weather Service Employees Organization
Palm Beach Post Reporter Kimberly Miller reports on the high number of vacancies at NWS forecast offices.
Weather Service Vacancies Concern During Severe Weather (Florida, January 24, 2016)
NBC5 Investigates: Staff Shortage Left NWS Scrambling To Cover Tornado Outbreak
(December 28, 2015) Our hearts and prayers go out to the families hurt by the North Texas tornadoes. For our Dallas/Ft. Worth NWS team, this is their home and their neighbors who are being impacted.
The emotional toll is further compounded because the staffing shortages in the National Weather Service. Twenty-five percent of forecaster positions are vacant at the Dallas/Ft.Worth office. Behind the scenes of their lifesaving work, NWS meteorologists are working around the clock, often on overtime with little rest, doing their regular work as well as the work of the vacant position.
NBC 5 Investigative Reporter Scott Friedman filed this report on Sunday: NBC5 Investigates: Staff Shortage Left NWS Scrambling To Cover Tornado Outbreak
Looking for an archived news story?
Check out the NWSEO Media Archives 2010-2015
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