Thursday, May 23, 2013

Without Warning

Trey Smith

As the Federal Times recently reported, sequestration includes an 8.2 percent cut to the National Weather Service. According to the organization representing weather service employees, that means there is “no way for the agency to maintain around-the-clock operations at its 122 forecasting offices” and also means “people are going to be overworked, they’re going to be tired, they’re going to miss warnings.”

Summarizing the problem, the American Institute of Physics put it bluntly: “The government runs the risk of significantly increasing forecast error, and the government’s ability to warn Americans across the country about high impact weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, will be compromised.”

The good news is that the National Weather Service station in Norman, Okla., had a warning in effect for 16 minutes before the most recent Oklahoma City tornado hit. That’s better than the 13 minute average so, thankfully, more people probably had more time than usual to evacuate or find safe shelter.

But what about the next time around? Will we be as ready as we can and should be? The answer is maybe not.

Though the past few years saw a record number of billion-dollar weather cataclysms, the weather service remains a perennial target for budget cuts and already has nearly a 10 percent employment vacancy rate — and those realities may be damaging its long-term ability to warn the public about severe weather events.
~ from Anyone Regret Slashing National Weather Service Budget Now? by David Sirota ~
By now, we all know the mantra of conservatives: Shrink government. Government, they say, is the problem. So, we need to cut it to the bone.

But this government they desperately want to eviscerate is responsible for a host of things that helps to keep average Americans safe and healthy. If we do away with workplace safety inspectors, then workplaces become unsafe. If we do away with food inspectors and/or food safety regulations, then our food supply becomes unsafe. If we do away with safeguards to protect the air, water and land, they will become unsafe too. And, as David Sirota points out, if we cut back on funds available to the National Weather Service, we may not be adequately warned the next time a climate catastrophe is upon us.

In the aftermath of the recent tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, the President pledged whatever federal support the State of Oklahoma needed. Interestingly enough, the state's Republican Governor -- a member of one of the political parties that wants to shrink government -- Mary Fallin graciously accepted. The irony here is palpable! When tragedy strikes, those who want to shrink government almost never turn away federal government assistance. In fact, they sometimes complain of not receiving all they desire.

It's almost like they are saying, "Shrink government, but not when you're dealing me!"

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