Every summer, hurricanes threaten millions, if not billions, of dollars in economic damage, and dozens, hundreds or even thousands of deaths. Hurricanes cannot be negotiated with; they cannot be prevented; they cannot be stopped. They are inexorable forces of nature, and the only defenses we have are quick evacuation routes, properly constructed buildings and drainage, and the meteorologists at the National Weather Service. So news that NWS workers may have to go on furlough during the height of hurricane season provokes alarming thoughts.
The NWS has spent the past several years “reprogramming” its funds, transferring $35 million away from certain projects in order to cover its payroll. There is no evidence of fraud or personal gain, just an agency trying to bridge the structural deficit between congressional funding and employee payroll, which makes up about 70 percent of the NWS budget. … Unless Congress provides extra money or repurposes current funding, the NWS may have to furlough thousands weather service forecasters or even temporarily shutter some offices.
While the current National Weather Service sits within the Department of Commerce, the national security and safety issues related to weather should not be ignored. Every summer raises the specter of that question: Will this be the year of a Category 5?
Our country is appropriately alert to any threats of terrorism, but let’s not forget that some of the greatest threats to our homeland security come not from bands of terrorists but from the west coast of Africa, where nascent weather patterns grow into destructive and deadly tropical storms.
Houston Chronicle (June 20)