Sunday, November 13, 2016

Comments On NWS Restructuring - Part 1

Here is a repeat of the statements from NWS and NWSEO.
NWS Briefing

During a Friday presentation of possible changes, NWS Director Louis W. Uccellini and Deputy Director Laura Furgione emphasized that none of the 122 local forecasting offices will be closed, but the service’s “evolution” could include:

• Reducing staff at some offices while increasing it at others depending on weather events or population, including bolstering some offices during tourist season.

• Moving offices so they are closer to emergency operations centers and reducing office hours so some sites are no longer 24/7.

• Using more automated systems, such as to launch the twice-daily weather balloons that sample upper atmospheric conditions.

• Shifting some forecasting duties to regional offices or national hubs so that local meteorologists can work more closely with emergency managers and municipal officials.

“This is about our cookie-cutter structure and getting away from the one-size-fits-all model so that our resources will be located where they need to be,” Furgione said. “All of our offices are manned 24/7 even when our partners don’t need us there and the weather is not demanding.”

Uccellini and Furgione downplayed concerns [voiced by the NWS Employees Union], saying local offices would still be able to provide their own expertise, but could be relieved of the so-called “grid” forecasts that use variables such as temperature, wind and dew point to come up with a final forecast.

“If forecasters are locked in to producing grids, it takes away from them interacting with local officials making decisions on the ground,” Uccellini said.

I add these maps to provide some background for the two statements. The above shows the location of current NWS Forecast Offices and their respective County Warning Areas. The map below shows the mainland NWS Regional areas of responsibility.

There are obviously some strange things within the current organization. Texas has nine forecast offices not counting El Paso - the EPZ office is actually in New Mexico but its main metro area is El Paso. California has six FOs but with a large areal portion covered by Las Vegas and Phoenix. Some FOs have tiny CWAs when compared to offices like Salt Lake City and Albuquerque. Somehow Montana ended up with four FOs?

The main mystery regarding the Regions is how it was decided way back when that New Mexico should be in the Southern Region and that Wyoming and Colorado should be in the Central Region. One of the main questions during past several decades has been: Why does the NWS need these regional bureaucracies? But, all attempts to change the regional structures have been derailed by Congress.


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.

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