National Weather Service to Furlough Staff During Severe Weather Season

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- ( - Congress passed a bill Friday that would allow the FAA to shift funds so it can avoid furloughing thousands of air traffic controllers. Other government agencies, like the National Weather Service, aren't so fortunate.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also known as NOAA, has not asked the government to move funds around. The plan is to furlough National Weather Service employees four days during the severe weather season.

It may not sound like a lot, but this could put public safety in jeopardy. The National Weather Service is already in a hiring freeze, and to add furloughs on top of that will mean short staffing when severe weather breaks out.

From on-air to in the air, when severe weather hits alerts canvass the region, but they all come from one place.

Scott McNeil is the union representative for employees out of the Memphis National Weather Service. He says the furloughs could mean big problems for the Mid-South, where severe weather is no stranger.

"Everyone uses our information, even if they don't realize it," he said. "Here at the weather service, we're staffed for fair weather - that means a day like today when there's not much going on. But when you have severe weather you have to call people in for overtime."

Employees who are in a furlough status cannot, by law, be called in to work on a day designated for furlough. Bob Nations with the Shelby County Office of Preparedness says this could delay alerts if severe weather rolls in.

"They're very critical to our protocols, in terms of sounding sirens, right now looking at our waterways and being able to monitor them for the rising water; it's a very critical piece to what we do."

In the last three years the National Weather Service has reduced its workforce by 6 percent. There's a proposal to reduce the workforce by another 8 percent next year. They're also currently under a hiring freeze, so there's an open position in Memphis that isn't being filled.

McNeil said, "As soon as you start impinging upon our ability to staff the office through furloughs and hiring freezes, that can have a trickle down effect to those kind of services."

The furloughs are expected to begin next month and run through October.

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