Monday, October 31, 2016

NWSEO Responses To Restructuring

The NWS Employees Organization (NWSEO) has an extensive set of responses and suggestions related to the NWS proposed restructuring effort (see previous post). I have been steered to a site at which these can be viewed:

There are many links there to more detailed position and information documents. Again, I am just going to share parts of what's available at the above link here (although I added a bit of highlighting) and will comment some later.

National Weather Service Discloses Plans to Move away from Local Forecasts – 

Move to Part Time Offices (October 21, 2016, Washington D.C.) 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 [to] 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 NWS 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. 
The phrase "migrant meteorologist" caught my attention, and I could easily envision myself as a young, migrant forecaster heading west for my next assignment.


  1. I laughed when I saw 'migrant' too! It does make sense centralizing forecasting and changing staffing as conditions warrant. However, losing local expertise is an issue. Perhaps instead of a single central location (DC) there could be regional centers based on weather types. For example, I could see forecasts centers for the SW coast (SD, LA, SF), SW deserts (Tucson, Phoenix, Vegas El Paso), and SW mountains(ABQ,FLG,Elko, SLC, Grand Junction).

  2. Is there a web site the summarizes the "official" restructuring plans?

  3. Is there a web site the summarizes the "official" restructuring plans?

  4. Bob, nice use of photo to get your point across about the migrant forecaster. My position after 48 year of operational private sector meteorology is that NWS is about to make a big mistake by reducing the role of their local meteorologists and I agree with the NWSEO position. The "heart-beat" of NWS is not the regional or national centers; the local NWS offices are the critical point of contact with the user community, especially during severe weather. I would bolster the meteorological expertise levels of the local offices to meet the demands of occasional severe weather. Migrant forecasters, in my humble opinion, would create more issues than they solve. Large national centers could see their manning and administrative positions reduced dramatically "since computers do all the work" and refinement for the <48hrs period could be done at the local offices. The exception would be the SPC, HPC and NHC.

    In summary:
    1. Re-focus the local offices to produce and provide all the 0-48hr forecasts for the area of their responsibility. These local mets have access to the same computer output resources a national office does plus the local forecast insight and local credibility to be successful. Regional and national centers may routinely demonstrated weakness in these time periods (SPC, NHC and, maybe HPC, excepted). During periods of active/severe/extreme weather have local offices focus on support to public warnings and the EM community. Just work harder. Or as we did in Denver and Phoenix work together with local private meteorologists who have local government forecast support contracts to handle the added burden. It has and is working - its just different. Have flexible shift loading like the private sector has used for the past 50 years.

    2.Let local offices relinquish their production of forecasts beyond 48hrs to either regional or national weather center(s) where computer-generated forecasts demonstrate comparable - superior accuracy to human forecasts. These prediction centers could be regional (preferred) or national in nature. If regional, they would produce all forecasts beyond 48 hours, coordinate with specialty centers and the national hub. They would serve the water, agricultural and commerce areas in concert with private meteorology.

    Finally, like you, I've been using the computer-generated weather model support since the mid-late 1960's. I'm very impressed by its evolution, especially over the past 5 years. Yet computer-generated local forecasts (HRRR, WRF-based, etc) have regular misses and occasional spectacular hits. If NWS goes to the "local weather briefer" support function I see the local NWS offices folding up shop in a decade with local briefing support contracts going to local private weather businesses. As much as I support private meteorology and am totally aware of the contributions it is making to the country, I do not support seeing the NWS disappear or be weakened. NWS administrative staffing can be redundant; local office staffing is getting leaner. What we really need are better local operational meteorologists at the NWS offices. These staffs should drive the bus - computerized forecast output is a fuel supply not the end. Perhaps I am just naïve about the local NWS office meteorologists' expertise and desire to forecast in the NWS office environment. One thing I do know is that in an emergency local contact, person-to-person with a trusted source makes for life-saving decisions being made before its too late.