NEW ORLEANS -- National Weather Service offices across the country started the spring off with a hiring freeze in order to meet the requirements of the federal government’s sequestration.
Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is looking at making a mandatory 7 percent budget cut with four possible furlough days. Local forecasters are none too happy about it.
“Number one, personal effects. Obviously you're being forced to have four unpaid days off, basically. Then there's also the big picture; the effects on the nature of work we do here," said Tim Destri, who works in the weather forecast office of the NWS-Slidell, but also is a National Weather Service Employees Organization steward.
If these furloughs were to happen, on those days that they would offices like the National Weather Service in Slidell could be completely shut down. You wouldn’t be able to get through the doors, and if you tried to call or email, you would get an automated return saying everything is closed.
Those specific days, laid out in an email last week, are all during hurricane season, including Aug. 30, near the notable landfall dates of hurricanes Katrina and Isaac.
"It's our mandate to protect lives and property and if our office is closed Ashley, we can't protect the people that we serve," said Gina Stillis-Nash, a lower Mississippi River forecaster in Slidell, as well as a NWSEO steward. That includes Eyewitness News.
"It would be more of an impact at Channel 4 if the office is completely shut down for a day and there's nobody there,” said Eyewitness News Chief Meteorologist Carl Arredondo, “There's information we get that we're not going to receive."
NOAA leaders say the plan is open to adjustment for certain positions and sudden weather events, but this is their best effort to ensure critical services are protected and employee impacts are minimized, while adhering to spending reductions.
Employees and union representatives hope the situation can be avoided and talks are in the process to accomplish that now. If not, the cuts have to be made before the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30.