Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tornado, and weather service furloughs

After tornado, key congressman says he "cannot support" weather-service cuts.

Tornado, and weather service furloughs

Well before the devastating Oklahoma tornado, U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, chair of the House science subcommittee said he believed a plan to furlough all National Weather Service employees for four days between July 1 and Sept. 30 was a bad idea.

Now he believes it's a terrible idea.

He fired off a letter this afternoon to the Commerce Department -- which oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which, in turn oversees the weather service - saying he "cannot support" the  layoff plan.

NOAA imposed a system-wide hiring freeze on March 27 and has proposed four-day furloughs for all 12,000-plus of its employees, including those who work at the Storm Prediction Center, in Norman, Okla., the national firehouse for all the nation's severe-storm warnings for the weather service.

With a current total of 22, SPC already is down two forecasters, said Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization. (NOAA imposed

NOAA says the furloughs wouldn't be haphazard but "managed carefully to insure that adequate coverage is maintained."

Wolf, a Virginia Republican, evidently doesn't want to hear it.

"I cannot support your current spending plans," he said in his letter to Rebecca Blank, the acting Commerce secretary. "I am certain that other alternative savings options exist."

He said the tornado underscored "the life and safety mission that NWS employees perform. There should be no higher priority at the department than enusring that these critical services are maintained."

The Philadelphia/Mount Holly office soon will be down three staffers. 

Incidentally, staff shortages or no, we expect SPC to get high marks in post-storm assessments in the tornado's aftermath..

Storm advisories were issued as early as Friday, and a tornado warning was posted at 2:40 p.m., according to weather service archives. That was six minutes before it touched down, and about 15 minutes before it mutated as a monster.

The storm survey team has determined that it reached its peak as an EF-5, with winds 200 to 210 m.p.h. near the Briarwood Elementary School in Moore.

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