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Storm warning over cuts

Bosses agree: Weather service cuts could be dangerous.

The National Weather Service employees have had a tempestuous relationship with their bosses at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over staff cuts and proposed furloughs.

Weather service staffers warned that cuts are unwise and threaten public safety, and this week they gained a hear, hear! from an unlikely source – NOAA.

Buried somewhat deeply in the assessment of how the weather service performed during Post-Tropical Storm (nee: Hurricane) Sandy, the report cites "critical staff shortages" at weather service offices in the East and at the National Hurricane Center. (See Page 43.)

"These shortages make them vulnerable to failure during significant weather events," states the report, a joint project of NOAA and the weather service.

"NWS should identify and fill critical positions at operational facilities. If these positions cannot be filled, NWS should ensure aware awareness at higher levels in NOAA that these vacancies may result in reduced levels of service. … "

One of the more understaffed offices in the weather service's Eastern Region is Mount Holly's. In two weeks it will be down three staffers, said lead forecaster Tony Gigi.

Earlier this month, Jim Lee, the meteorologist in charge of the Baltimore-Washington office – where staffing is down by a third -- made a public plea to the eastern regional manager.

He invited his thoughts on "sustaining effective operations with this number of long-standing operational vacancies."

Depending on the outcome of the budgeting process, Lee and his colleagues could be looking at further shortages.

NOAA imposed a hiring freeze back in March, and it has said it might have to furlough all its 12,000 employees – including those who work for the weather service – for four days between July and Sept. 30.

That would coincide with climatological peak of the hurricane season.