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A Chance of Funding Cuts In The National Weather Service Forecast

This week's weather column from Phillyweather.net's Tom Thunstrom covers storms of different types -- financial in Washington, meteorological locally.

If you have yet to hear the term “austerity” it will probably be one you will hear countless times in the future given the news over the weekend about our nation’s credit rating being knocked down a peg by Standard and Poor’s. Austerity is a philosophy of cutting services, spending, and reducing deficits, sometimes in concert with tax hikes in order to balance out spending gaps. Political beliefs and opinions aside, the austerity bell also tolls for meteorological research and forecasting.

Jack Hayes, the director of the National Weather Service (NWS), spoke of the importance of his organization in light of the rather epic run of weather our nation has seen the last couple of years. With billions of dollars in spending likely to be cut in the coming years, how safe is the National Weather Service (NWS) from the chopping block in light of the litany of private forecasting options out there? Considering the last attempt to chop the NWS in 2005 failed miserably, I doubt the NWS is toast any time soon in totality. However, parts of the organization may be trimmed back in various forms and there have been proposals from time-to-time to reduce the number of forecast offices or the number of staff in those offices to streamline forecasting, as well as other proposals to trim funding for research.

The cutting office proposal is somewhat poorly thought out. Weather in this part of the world is rather complex and unique.  It could snow a foot in Mount Pocono, be a mix of rain and snow here in the suburbs, rain in the city and points south in one storm, but a forty mile shift in that storm’s projected track can change the picture for millions of people and what ultimately falls from the sky.

Having local expertise in our climate and on-the-ground staff that has to deal with it on a daily basis is important, even with the advent of computer guidance (much of it government funded) to help.  While many good people forecast weather from Atlanta, State College and other national organizations throughout the country, having someone local is critical to local forecasting. 

At the same time, funding is critical to help improve forecasts and yes, they have improved overall during the last twenty years. A three-day forecast in 1991 is about as accurate as a seven-day forecast today. Despite the occasional blooper or Storm of the Century that amounts to slush, the vast majority of forecasts have improved over time and surprises and disappointments don’t happen as frequently as in days gone by.

Given the rather nasty amount of work ahead for those in Congress, something from the NWS will probably see some slashing and gashing in the coming years. While the impacts aren’t as direct on you as road projects, the wrong cut or cuts could impact future forecast accuracy.

STORMY START, "COOLING" END

The beginning of the workweek could feature a couple of rounds of storms on Monday and again Tuesday night and Wednesday. The latter threat could bring some pretty heavy rain nearby or overhead depending on track of the disturbance responsible for the storms.

After temperatures flirt with 90 the next couple of days, we’ll "cool" somewhat for the latter half of the week and see some highs in the mid-80s for the end of the week. Along with the cooling nudge in temperatures, humidity levels will take a noticeable dip, with nighttime lows Thursday night or Friday night perhaps in the upper-50s locally.

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