The National Weather Service plans to move away from producing forecasts locally, reduce field office hours, and move towards relying on one weather forecast nationwide. The NWS says that this will improve their services, while an employee union leader claims that it will degrade them.
The National Weather Service recently announced a plan to "evolve" their services and infrastructure. According to a recorded video conference given to KYUK by the NWS, the plan calls for producing one forecast for the entire country at their office in Washington, D.C. instead of producing regional and local forecasts.
Under the new plan, local forecasters will take the forecasts from the main office and tailor them to individual locations. The NWS says that this will help reduce duplication and make their reports more accurate and consistent. The NWS Employee Organization's President, Dan Sobien, counters that this will make the forecasts less accurate because many places have unique weather patterns.
“There are a lot of people in Washington D.C. that don’t even know where Bethel, Alaska is, and I’m guessing there are a lot of unique idiosyncrasies to the weather there. There’s, like, thousands of reasons why it would be best to have forecasts coming from forecasters in the area, and that will cease to happen," said Sobien.
How it will change the way forecasts are delivered is unclear. KYUK contacted the NWS field offices in Alaska, but could not get a comment by deadline.
The new national plan for the weather service will reduce the hours that their 122 field offices are open. The offices will only operate part time instead of running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The plan calls for automating the weather balloon program, so local staff will no longer be spending time launching weather balloons to test winds and atmospheric conditions. Instead they will be gathering data, going to meetings, and training and educating people in their areas.
Managers said that there was currently no plan to reduce staff, but they did say they were planning to more strategically utilize staff time.
Managers say that the goal is to provide better Impact-based Decision Support Services, or IDSS. The aim is to provide information to decision makers on the state and federal level to help them be able to save more lives during storms, floods, or severe weather events, which are occurring more frequently in the face of climate change.
NWS says the plan to go to one forecast for the entire nation has been in the works for some time, but Sobien says that he can't confirm when the process began.
“Well they did it in secret, so I can’t tell you that. They held secret meetings and made the people in those meetings sign non-disclosure agreements. We didn’t find out about it till, like, three weeks ago," said Sobien.
The National Weather Service plans to start testing and evaluating these changes within the next year, and aims at full implementation by 2018. Currently Alaska's field offices are located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau.