HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Florida - In the Sunshine State, you hear a lot about hurricane, tornado, and severe thunderstorm warnings. But you may not know those alerts come from meteorologists at National Weather Service offices across the state.
But discussions to possibly reduce hours at some offices - including Tampa Bay's office, in Ruskin, has employees concerned their life-saving work could be compromised.
A draft report, leaked to the 10News investigative network, suggests closing some 24/7 offices on nights and weekends could be on the table in an effort to "evolve" the National Weather Service (NWS). The agency is seeking to free up meteorologist resources, but that might mean getting severe weather alerts from more distant offices when weather happens outside of normal business hours.
For Tampa Bay, that might mean alerts from Tallahassee or Miami, rather than here in Hillsborough County.
"We think it's a very bad move and it's going to risk people's lives," said Dan Sobien, President of the National Weather Service Employees' Organization. "(The meteorologists in Ruskin) know, for instance, how the interbay peninsula will affect thunderstorms."
He says efficiencies are great, but not at the price of losing the expertise from local meteorologists, who have been working with first responders (as well as television meteorologists) in the community for decades.
The National Weather Service gives watches and warnings. Weather teams use the critical information you often see in the red alert bar on the bottom of your screen or top of our website to let you know dangerous conditions could be headed our way.
A NWS spokesperson said the goal of the part-time office closures, which was simply one of seven effeciency ideas presented to agency upper management, would be to "better align our staffing profile and workload to better meet our partners' growing need for impact-based decision support services..."
What does that mean? A spokesperson said the National Weather Service has to do a better job of connecting the dots for local decision makers. Great forecasts don't matter if those decision-makers aren't using them properly.
The employees' union is concerned citizens would see a "degradation of services."
But NWS leadership contends they could still address severe weather from their existing offices, and no decisions are close to being made yet. A spokesperson added that evolving would give staff more flexibility to work closely with emergency managers.
The agency maintains it is not proposing any office closings, forecast centralizing, or staff reductions. Yet some workers say they're skeptical how the agency is going to keep the same staffing numbers if some of the offices are only open part of the time they currently operate.
And with potential budget cuts looming in next year's federal budget, the anxiety over NWS employees' future is only growing.