The National Weather Service has hundreds of vacant forecaster positions, and the lack of staff leaves the agency "for the first time in its history teetering on the brink of failure," according to a report from the Weather Service's labor union, the National Weather Service Employees Organization.
"It's gotten so bad that we're not going to be able to provide service that two years ago we were able to provide to public, emergency managers, and media," said Dan Sobien, union president.
"We've never been in that position before," Sobien added, according to The Washington Post.
For example, the Washington and Baltimore region is short five full-time forecasters, according to Ray Martin, the union representative for that region.
Staff morale has suffered as a result, Martin told the Post: "Some people have been denied vacations, because there are not enough bodies to fill shifts. I, myself, worked a 15-hour day about a week ago. You get a lot less sleep. You start to wonder if you're safe on the road. You don't see your loved ones, which eats into family life."
Martin was unsure if the low amount of staff would affect the quality of warnings and forecasts.
"You're working people double shifts, some people aren't getting days off, and you're grinding people down. There is that potential," Martin told the Post.
"The longer this goes on, the more the potential rises. There's a long winter ahead," he added.
Susan Buchanan, a National Weather Service spokeswoman, said the agency is not neglecting its staff or its constituents.
"Let me state emphatically that we would never take an action that would jeopardize the services we provide to emergency managers and the public," Buchanan told the Post. "NWS is taking definitive steps to ensure the health and well-being of our employees through guidance to local managers on scheduling and flexibility."
The agency is working quickly to fill the open positions, Buchanan said. The Senate Appropriations Committee, in its 2018 fiscal year budget markup, said the job vacancies were "unacceptable . . . the NWS is directed to fill all vacancies as expeditiously as possible,"the Senate's markup said, according to the Post.
A government-wide hiring freeze imposed by President Donald Trump's administration affected the agency before the hurricane season, according to a Sept. 27 report in The Washington Post.
"There's no question that the hiring freeze had an effect," Sobien, the union president, said in September Post report. "But really it was the straw that broke the camel's back. The camel was already weighed down to the ground."
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