Disaster is forecast if furloughs hit the National Weather Service
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 20, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 12:00 a.m. HST, Feb 22, 2011
» Barry Hirshorn is Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization. His last name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.
The union representing National Weather Service workers says budget cuts proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives could jeopardize public safety and increase the severity of disaster losses in Hawaii.
"People could die. ... It could be serious," said Barry Hirshorn, Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.
Hirshorn said that if a continuing resolution proposed by the U.S. House is enacted — triggering a 28 percent budget cut in the second half of the fiscal year — Weather Service employees as well as those at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center could face furloughs and rolling closures.
"It would impact our ability to issue warnings," he said.
The Obama administration has the opposed cuts as allowed under House Resolution 1 and has threatened to veto it.
"The bill proposes cuts that would sharply undermine core government functions," the President's Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said the cuts are focused on reducing or eliminating programs that relate to climate and ocean monitoring.
"Those who claim that global warming is a myth find the hard data produced by such monitoring inconvenient," she said.
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, called the proposed cuts in the Republican spending bill "reckless."
"Drastically reducing the ... ability to forecast weather and alert our communities about imminent, dangerous events is irresponsible," Hanabusa said.
National Weather Service administrators in Hawaii could not be reached for comment.
Hirshorn said the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center — an arm of the Weather Service — plays a critical role in monitoring potential tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.
He said the Weather Service staff is at normal levels with shifts staffed 24 hours a day.
Union officials warned that reduced accuracy of forecasts may lead to flight delays and affect the cost of shipping and agricultural products.
In a statement on the union's website, national President Dan Sobien said, "In the next hurricane, flood, tornado or wildfire, lives will be lost and people will ask what went wrong. Congress' cuts and the devastation to the well-being of our nation's citizens are dangerously wrong."