National Weather Service running short-handed - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

National Weather Service running short-handed

The NWS is responsible for triggering official storm warnings, but the service is facing a major worker shortage. The NWS is responsible for triggering official storm warnings, but the service is facing a major worker shortage.
HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

It's been two weeks since tornadoes tore through parts of North Alabama.

We counted on the WAFF 48 Storm Team to warn us and those warnings no doubt saved lives.

WAFF stays on the air as long as the threat is there, but the official warnings that trigger tornado sirens and emergency alerts come from the National Weather Service.

Our investigation looked at hundreds of vacant jobs at weather service offices, many right here in North Alabama.

Documents uncovered by WAFF show several offices are short-handed this severe weather season. 548 jobs remain vacant, close to 15 percent of the workforce.

Out of those jobs, 396 are considered "Emergency Essential Employees." These are the people who must report to work during hurricanes, floods, and tornados.

A majority of cities affected fall in the central and southern regions, including Tornado Alley.

The list was compiled by the National Weather Service Employees Organization, a union of meteorologists who are concerned that the staff shortage could lead to life altering mistakes.

WAFF took those concerns to the National Weather Service, and a spokesman from headquarters in Maryland insists forecasters haven't skipped a beat.

"Timely watches and warnings have been issued through the Southeast; have been issued time and time again for severe weather including tornadoes, and the verification of those tornadoes are evidence of that," said Chris Vaccaro, NWS Public Affairs.

The union admits the National Weather Service has not missed issuing any watches or warnings yet, the union has serious concerns about fatigue.

To overcome the shortage so that every shift is covered, forecasters log hour after hour of overtime, managers are taking on other shifts and nearby offices have had to help supplement staffing.

"We get the job done. The core mission of the National Weather Service is to protect life and property and we do that each and every day and our forecasters have been spot on," added Vaccaro.

Huntsville's National Weather Service office is currently down three forecasters and the same goes for Birmingham and Mobile.

When an EF-3 tornado bared down on Sylvia's home in Athens, a warning from her NOAA weather radio pushed her and her daughter take cover in closet.

"That was my outside source of information and I am just so bless to know that I had that going on because I didn't know how close it was and it was right over us," said Sylvia.

The National Weather Service is funded by Congress and last year, due to sequestration, they faced a 10-month long hiring-freeze and could only hire 70 critical positions.

Factor in retirements and those who simply moved on to other jobs, that's what we're told took the vacant job total to more than 500.

However, now that budgets have thawed, the National Weather Service is on the verge of hiring 200 people, hoping to make the issue of fatigue no longer an issue.

Copyright 2014 WAFF. All rights reserved.

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