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Hurricane preparedness casualty of federal government shutdown

Weather models are not being updated and training sessions might be canceled during the budget standoff

The U.S. government’s partial shutdown is in its third week, and the pinch of the protracted standoff over funding for a wall along the country’s border with Mexico is starting to be felt—not only by workers missing paychecks, but also in terms of important science that is not getting done.

About 800,000 workers have either been furloughed or, if their jobs are deemed essential to protecting lives and property, are working without pay across dozens of shuttered agencies and departments. These include several that do significant scientific work such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—the parent agency of the National Weather Service. Although day-to-day forecasting operations continue at the NWS, key improvements to weather models have been put on pause. Data needed for research projects may be inaccessible; and if the shutdown continues much longer, preparedness training will be canceled for emergency managers in coastal communities looking warily ahead to the coming hurricane season after the devastating storms of recent years.

Eric Blake, a forecaster with the NWS’s National Hurricane Center in Miami spoke with Scientific American about the shutdown’s impact on the NWS and its employees (in his capacity as the National Weather Service Employees Organization union steward at the center).