Federal Government Shutdown Could Hurt Hurricane Forecasts, Delay Storm Reports

The Environmental Modeling Center in College Park, Md., which studies how to put better physics into hurricane forecast models to increase intensity and track accuracy, is almost entirely shutdown.

by Kimberly Miller, The Palm Beach Post, Fla. / January 8, 2019

(TNS) - Storm experts at the National Hurricane Center in Miami are working through the government shutdown, but with other federal agencies on furlough, some of the hurricane analysis and forecast modeling that happens during the winter months is on hold.

It's a pause that could delay life-saving upgrades to forecasts, said Eric Blake, the National Weather Service union steward at the National Hurricane Center.

"This is our main time of year when we improve on things," Blake said. "But it's basically at a standstill, at least on the modeling side, and the longer it goes on, the less likely they will improve by the start of hurricane season."

The Environmental Modeling Center in College Park, Md., which studies how to put better physics into hurricane forecast models to increase intensity and track accuracy, is almost entirely shutdown.

Training for new emergency managers that the hurricane center does during the off season is in question because it's not a "mission-essential function."

And while the hurricane center is still working on the postmortem storm reports it does on every hurricane from the previous year, the closure of agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey, National Ocean Service and FEMA make it difficult to gather the necessary information.

"When our important partners aren't working, you can only do so much," Blake said.

Blake was scheduled to give a presentation on the Madden-Julian oscillation at the American Meteorological Society, or AMS, conference in Phoenix this week, but travel by employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was canceled.

The AMS is the largest meeting for atmospheric scientists, drawing a worldwide audience and students interested in pursuing meteorology.

"This is really going to harm the information exchange, exposure for students, science, etc.," Marshall Shepherd, a University of Georgia atmospheric sciences professor and former AMS president wrote in a social media post. "Federal scientists are a huge part of the weather enterprise."

National Weather Service meteorologists in Miami are also working through the shutdown, albeit without pay and increasing stresses as holiday credit card bills come in but paychecks don't. Miami-based meteorologists referred questions to the National Weather Service's public information office, which did not return messages Monday.

The Washington Post reported Monday that the shutdown of the Environmental Modeling Center means the nation's new global forecast weather model, that was scheduled to launch in February, will likely be delayed.

"But in the meantime, the current Global Forecast System — or GFS — the United States' premier weather model, is running poorly, and there's no on on duty to fix it," The Post reported.

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