The Washington Post teamed up with union and environmental activists for a Wednesday story on how the Trump administration’s hiring freeze “shrunk National Weather Service staff before hurricanes hit.”
The implication: Trump’s hiring freeze hurt U.S. readiness before three major hurricanes made U.S. landfall.
Go straight to the article’s third paragraph, however, and The Post admits the National Weather Service (NWS) has had trouble with staffing for years. The Post reports staff numbers “have fallen since 2010 when the agency employed more than 3,800 nonmanagerial and nonsupervisory employees.”
NWS employee rosters “stabilized in 2016, with the forecasting agency starting and ending the year with about 3,400 on-the-ground workers,” but in 2017 staff levels fell “from 3,425 in December to 3,368 in August,” the Post reported.
So, 375, or 87 percent, of the 432-position staffing reduction at NWS happened under former President Barack Obama. But WaPo’s article never mentions Obama or his administration.
WaPo based its reporting on documents obtained by the the Sierra Club through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Sierra Club documents showed some NWS vacancies “were in locations that would be hit by the major hurricanes that barreled through the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.”
“There’s no question that the hiring freeze had an effect,” Dan Sobien, president of the weather forecasters union, told WaPo. “But really it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“People were literally getting sick from the workload,” Sobien said.
The implication here is that somehow NWS job vacancies have impacted their ability to track weather, including the recent rash of major hurricanes. Indeed, WaPo noted “the hiring freeze played a part in the recent decline in the agency’s ranks ahead of the triplet of intense storms — Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.”
But is there any evidence NWS forecasting was impacted?
Meteorologist Ryan Maue, who is one of the top experts on tropical storms, said NWS and the National Hurricane Center “performed spectacularly” this hurricane season.
Every Nat’l Weather Service Office & Center of NOAA performed spectacularly during recent hurricanes.
— Ryan Maue (@RyanMaue) September 27, 2017
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) spokesman Christopher Vaccaro pushed back against WaPo’s story.
“As already demonstrated during Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria, NOAA is prepared for the hurricane season and is operating at full tempo,” Vaccaro told WaPo.
“Our forecasters at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, local Weather Service offices, and river forecast centers and elsewhere in the agency are fulfilling the agency’s mission of protecting lives and property as they issue timely and accurate forecasts,” he said.
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