Major Cuts May Be Coming To National Weather Service
West Tennesseans know all too well how every minute counts when it comes to staying ahead of severe weather. Severe weather alerts and updates issued by the National Weather Service in Memphis are a critical part of decision-making for Gibson County Emergency Management Agency Director Rickey Graves. "As we're going through a night or day of severe storms, we're continually calling down there, trying to get updates," said Graves. But the 2013 federal budget proposal calls for reduction of $39 million in funding for the NWS, and eliminates around 80% of Information Technology Officers (ITO) - a crucial position during severe weather events. "ITOs make sure there's data flow to the weather radio, to the internet, and to all the other ways our customers receive weather information," said National Weather Service Employees Organization representative, Steven Cromer. Without an ITO, those life-saving forms of communication could be delayed. "Every severe weather event - especially a large event - requires some type of IT support, said Cromer. "There's always software that needs to be monitored or troubleshot." Even without any cuts, most weather forecast offices are already "fair-weather" staffed - meaning there are not enough meteorologist to cover shifts during severe weather outbreaks. "Working severe weather requires an abundance of overtime and everybody here available to help out with the mission," said Cromer. Without an ITO on site at NWS Memphis, Graves worries for the safety of West Tennesseans. "We know they'll step up and work even harder than they do, but you can only do so much." Additional 2013 budget cuts propose eliminating research on improving hurricane intensity forecasts and air quality forecasts.