Bill to Centralize Weather Forecasting Offices Gets Stormy Reception

By Lynds, Jen | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), June 19, 2015 | Go to article overview

Bill to Centralize Weather Forecasting Offices Gets Stormy Reception


Lynds, Jen, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


CARIBOU, Maine -- A bill introduced this week that seeks to centralize the forecasting of 122 National Weather Service community offices around the country, including in Caribou and Gray, into six regional offices has drawn heated responses.

"I think this is a bad idea," U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine said Friday. "The weather in Maine can change rapidly, and we should have the benefit of experienced, local forecasters and not rely on some far off regional center to forecast our weather."

The bill, S. 1573, presented to the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune of South Dakota, would leave one "warning coordination meteorologist" in each community office to serve as a liaison with emergency management officials for storm preparedness and response activities as well as to conduct media and public outreach. The community offices also would continue to maintain radar instrumentation.

The proposal "would essentially take forecast functions out of the Caribou and Gray forecast offices and leave one person behind to launch weather balloons," Dan Sobien, president of the national labor union that represents NWS employees, said Friday. "It would take each office and turn it into a storefront."

He said the National Weather Service Employees Organization strongly opposes the bill.

Efforts were unsuccessful Friday to find out how many people, including meteorologists, are employed at the NWS offices in Caribou and Gray and how they would be affected, were the bill to pass.

Meteorologists who answered the phone at the two Maine offices on Friday said they could not comment and referred calls to a public relations specialist in Maryland, who did not return calls.

Sobien said he did not have any numbers for individual offices but said "we would have to move between 1,500 and 2,000 workers from Guam all the way to Maine into six regional centers."

If passed, the legislation would order the NWS, which has an annual budget of about $1 billion, to create a plan for establishing regional forecasting centers within a year of the bill's enactment. It recommends these centers be co-located with a university or government lab and staffed to ensure local forecast quality would not be not downgraded.

Supporters say the bill would modernize and streamline NWS forecast operations and reduce costs. Savings over the next 10 years would be invested in super-computing capacity and research to improve forecasts.

Sobien said he was shocked at how quickly the bill seemed to be moving through the Senate.

"Thune is the chairman of the commerce committee, and this bill is on the fast track to be voted on next week by the committee," he said. "It is pretty rare that a bill is proposed and then voted on a week later."

In a joint statement, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King also spoke out against the bill Friday evening.

"The National Weather Service's Caribou office is the sole NWS office for northern and Down East Maine, and it plays a vital role in forecasting weather for these areas and keeping people informed of potentially dangerous storms and other major weather patterns," they said. "The information collected by NWS Caribou protects people, farms, recreational areas, businesses and, by extension, the region's economy."

Closing the Gray or Caribou office "would detrimentally affect people in our state," they noted. …

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