Federal cuts tighten meteorology budget
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 20:02
Proposed federal cuts to the 2013 fiscal budget continue to spark uneasiness in the Department of Commerce, particularly in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and its component agencies like the National Weather Service.
Mike Brown, associate professor of meteorology and climatology, said these cuts could translate into difficult years ahead for Mississippi State University’s current and prospective meteorology students.
“It’s getting tougher. The weather service is contracting. If there are budget cuts and if we have this contraction, weather service employment will essentially shut down for a few years,” Brown said.
Jane Lubchecno, NOAA administrator, published a response to the proposed budget cuts on NOAA’s official website.
“This year’s budget request of approximately $5.1 billion aims to provide immediate life-saving and job-supporting services needed to prepare and protect American communities and infrastructure and invest in science and research that will enhance America’s competitiveness,” she said. “It includes tough choices and sacrifices made in the face of tightening budgets, with valuable programs reduced or terminated to accommodate critical investments that could not be delayed to ensure we can meet national priorities.”
Mark Baldwin, graduate student in earth and atmospheric sciences, said this is a crucial time for environmental research and the services of the NWS and other NOAA administrations should not be compromised.
“We all know that we’re going to have to have budget cuts, but the weather service is not where those cuts need to be brought from,” he said. “Especially with the changing climate, I think everybody is finally coming around to the point where they realize things are warming up. It’s our responsibility to try to figure out what we need to do to prepare for these changes. And we need the research to give us a better understanding of our planet.”
Brown said the proposed 2013 budget cuts may be a product of a general lack of knowledge about the services NOAA and the NWS provide.
“How the forecast is generated is pretty unknown,” he said. “In some cases, the weather service is trying to prepare for these cuts by letting the public know that certain products may no longer be available from them. They would still continue with their mission, protecting lives and property, but they might put a lot less focus on things like air quality, ozone forecasting and those types of things.”
Baldwin also said budget cuts can be attributed to a lack of understanding on a local and federal level.
“People see The Weather Channel. They see their local weather guy, and they just don’t associate him with the National Weather Service, which is where he’s getting all his information. If the public has forgotten that, can you imagine what your elected officials have forgotten? We need more politicians who are educated in geography and in the sciences,” he said. “Contact your local congressman. Ask them what they think about it. Make sure they’re aware.”
Baldwin said the lack of awareness also compromises public safety in severe weather situations.
“The unfortunate thing is that ignorance could lead them to do budget cuts in the weather service that could eliminate offices, and we won’t know the effect of that until someone has lost their life. It’ll be too late for that family,” he said.
Brown said the effects of federal budget cuts have already been felt in the absence of weather service employees at national weather conferences.
“It makes everything a little stagnant. You do this research, and if you can’t get it into the hands of the people who can actually use it, it doesn’t do a lot of good. If they’re not here to hear it, they obviously can’t implement it,” he said. Brown said MSU’s reputation may protect broadcast meteorology students from the brunt of the proposed budget’s adverse effects.
“Approximately two-thirds of every weather person on TV has their education from Mississippi State University,” he said. “We are so well known for our broadcasters that I don’t think we’re going to see a decrease there. Normally, when there’s a job open in broadcasting, they come to our university and ask who’s available. But certainly on the operational side, that could be tight for our students.”
Brown said while some students will always be inclined to study meteorology and weather phenomena, tighter job markets may require a higher standard of ability in applicants.
“I don’t see a decline in interest. Large-scale, devastating weather events tend to drive people into meteorology,” he said. “But money fuels everything. Money fuels research. Students probably need to find something that sets them apart, and that may mean gaining another skill, being proficient in computer programming, being more proficient in the use of GIS platforms, adding to their resume.”
Baldwin said meteorology students should actively pursue internships to cultivate their skills and personal connections in order to be more attractive to future employers.
“If I had advice for anyone it would be to do an internship. That is the smartest thing you will ever do as an undergrad,” he said.
In the meantime, Lubchenco said NOAA and the NWS will continue to push toward new heights in research and public safety measures despite cuts.
“We will still strive to deliver on core missions that Americans have come to depend on each and every day by providing the best information for life and safety, ensuring healthy and productive ecosystems in our oceans and coastal areas and continuing important research and development,” he said.
“We’re working to save lives,” Brown said. “Anything to diminish that would be a shame.”