Trump Administration Proposes Slashing National Weather Service Budget by 8 Percent, Eliminating Hundreds of Jobs

Pam Wright
Published: February 13, 2018

In the wake of the costliest weather disaster year on record, the Trump administration has proposed cutting funding by 8 percent for the National Weather Service and eliminating of hundreds of jobs in the department.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2019 fiscal budget summary released Monday calls for the NWS agency under the NOAA to cut 355 jobs, including 248 forecasting positions. The overall budget cut for the NWS would amount to just over $75 million of its $1 billion overall budget requested by NOAA.

The summary notes that the administration justifies the job elimination on the 2016 Weather Service Operations and Workforce Analysis, which found “a mismatch in some areas [of the Weather Service] between workforce and workload” and “that the current distribution of staff across the country can evolve.”

The proposal directs the NWS to reduce staff to increase “flexibility within NWS’ operating model” and “begin implementing a series of operational reforms aimed at increasing staffing flexibility to best match service demands with available resources.”

Meteorologists say the budget proposal may put lives at risk. 

(MORE: 2017 Was the Most Costly Weather Disaster Year in the United States)

“The proposed NWS cuts are especially troubling given that the nation just saw its most expensive year for weather disasters on record," meteorologist Bob Henson of Weather Underground said. "The NWS forecasters I know are passionate about their jobs and dedicated to serving the public. They’ve also been stretched thin by understaffing. If we want a world-class weather service, we ought to fully fund it.”

In October, the National Weather Service Employees Organization said the agency is “for the first time in its history teetering on the brink of failure” as reductions in staffing left scientists overworked and stressed.

“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, the president of the union. “We’ve never been in that position before.”

Staff vacancies at the agency increased 57 percent from 2014 to 2016, according to an independent report from the Government Accountability Office. The union suggests that the number of vacancies has actually reached nearly 700. The union notes that the decrease in staffing is not necessarily tied to a lack funding but because funds allocated were not earmarked for staffing. 

Sobien told Tuesday that if the budget proposal is approved, it would mean that by 2019, more than a quarter of the NWS staff would be eliminated. 

"That means many offices will have to close or close nights and weekends," Sobien said of the proposed staffing cuts. "Already, many NWS staff work months at a time with no days off and are forced overtime."

"What you will see is a decrease in forecasting and warning accuracy," Sabien said, adding that inaccurate forecasting will "cost us all a whole lot more than $75 million."

"Literally, this (proposed budget) is risking all of our lives to save a few million dollars," he added. 

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

Featured Blogs

Meteorology of Saturday's Colombian Flood Disaster That Killed 254

By Dr. Jeff Masters
April 3, 2017

At least 254 people were killed in the in the city of Mocoa (population 40,000) in southwest Colombia near the border of Ecuador early Saturday, when torrential rains triggered a debris flow on a nearby mountain that surged into the town as a huge wall of water carrying tons of mud and debris. The disaster is the fourth deadliest weather-related disaster in Colombia’s recorded history.

Iconic American Destination Virtually Isolated for Rest of Year

By Christopher C. Burt
March 24, 2017

Half of the village of Big Sur, on the coast of central California, has lost its only access to the north following the demolition of the flood-damaged Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge along State Route 1 (also Rt. 1 or SR 1) on March 19. Although Rt. 1 to the south of Big Sur has reopened to traffic (after mud and rock slides were cleared) it is a long 70-mile journey along the windy but spectacular highway to Cambria, the next town of any significance where supplies can be had. CalTrans (California Department of Transportation) estimates it will take 6-9 months to rebuild a new bridge over the canyon.

An extraordinary meteorological event; was one of its results a 1000-year flood?

By Stu Ostro
October 5, 2015

The confluence of meteorological ingredients the first weekend in October 2015 resulted in an extraordinary weather event with severe impacts. Was one of them a 1000-year flood?

Why the Arrest of a Science-Loving 14-year-old Matters

By Shaun Tanner
September 16, 2015

By now, many of you have heard or read about the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school student from Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested because school officials called the police after he showed one of his teachers his homemade clock. Mistaken for a bomb, Ahmed was taken into custody, interrogated, shamed, suspended (still on suspension today, Wednesday), and reprimanded. All of this after it has been found that the "device" he brought to school was indeed, a homemade clock.