WASHINGTON — Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL4) voiced his disapproval Wednesday of the proposed National Weather Service Improvement Act, a bill that would consolidate the 122 National Weather Service forecast offices into six regional offices.
Introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SC), the bill would give the NWS a year to re-establish the forecast offices, which must be integrated with universities or a state/federal agency.
Alabama currently has three NWS forecasting offices, located in the Huntsville, Birmingham, and Mobile metro areas. Proponents of the legislation say these offices wouldn’t be closed completely, but all the data collected by them would be sent to the assigned regional office where it will be developed into a forecast.
The bill calls on savings from the consolidation to be used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to expand super-computing capacity, improve weather forecasts, enhance communication of weather forecasts to the public, and expand the use of ground-based observations and strengthen radar coverage where necessary.
Rep. Aderholt has concerns that the plan would cause more severe weather events to slip through the cracks, which could have devastating effects—particularly for Alabama.
“I have the utmost respect for Senator Thune, however I have to respectfully disagree with this plan to consolidate the country’s National Weather Service offices into six regional offices,” Aderholt said.
Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, recently told the Washington Post, that the bill would most likely result in over 1000 meteorologists losing their jobs.
“It would take a decade for the field of meteorology to recover from a blow like that and those meteorologists to be absorbed back into the enterprise.” Sobien said.
As with many Alabamians, the memories of the April 27th, 2011 tornado outbreak are still all too fresh for Aderholt.
“The district I represent in Congress is one of the most tornado prone areas in the United States,” the Congressman said. “On April 27, 2011 more than 100 people in the 4th District alone were killed by tornadoes. If it had not been for the diligence and dedication of the men and women at the Birmingham and Huntsville National Weather Service offices, I have no doubt the death toll would have been much higher.
“I believe that consolidating offices would lead to some storms slipping through the cracks and ultimately lives would be lost due to missed warnings and missed opportunities to alert the public.”