The National Weather Service (NWS) is dealing with hundreds of vacant positions in the wake of a series of extreme weather events that have plagued the U.S.
"The National Weather Service ... for the first time in its history is close to teetering on the brink of failure," the NWS's labor union, the NWS Employees Organization, said in a statement earlier this week.
The union went on to slam NWS leadership, saying it "has been incapable of placing their budget priorities correctly, spending money on Management conferences and blended models rather than on filling the nearly 700 vacant forecast positions."
The NWS director in Eastern Region Headquarters recently announced that the weather forecast offices in Raleigh, N.C., Burlington, Vt., and Binghamton, N.Y., had been ordered to reduce the number of forecast shifts due to low staffing, according to the union.
The shortages have sparked concern among workers and union members about the potential impact of the staffing shortages in the approaching winter months.
Union representative Roy Martin told The Washington Post that the 15 forecasters that serve the Washington and Baltimore region will be without five full-time staffers during the winter months.
The staff shortages could also have major impacts on other regions, including the Burlington area.
“Given our staffing, our ability to fill our mission of protecting life and property would be nearly impossible if we had a big storm,” NWS forecaster and union steward, Brooke Taber told The Burlington Free Press.
However, the NWS is pushing back on the claims, with a spokeswoman saying the service would never jeopardize its services during an extreme weather event.
“Let me state emphatically that we would never take an action that would jeopardize the services we provide to emergency managers and the public,” Susan Buchanan told the Post.
“NWS is taking definitive steps to ensure the health and well-being of our employees through guidance to local managers on scheduling and flexibility.”
The union has gone after the service on the issue of job vacancies in the past.
“In fact, the NWS nationwide has not had full staffing levels for at least seven years,” the statement reads.
The news comes as southeastern portions of the mainland U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands recover from the damaging impacts of three separate hurricanes and as California rebuilds after a slew of massive, deadly wildfires.