Federal budget sequestration begins to undercut extreme event preparedness

Hot Shot crews making their way to the fire line (Credit: Texas Forest Service)

Hot Shot crews making their way to the fire line (Credit: Texas Forest Service)

So it begins: The 2013 wildfire season finds the government facing cutbacks in firefighters, equipment, fire prevention, and recovery, as a result of federal budget sequestration cuts. And due to an ongoing agency-wide hiring freeze, the National Weather Service office serving the Washington, DC, and Baltimore area, for example, has lost a third of its forecasting staff and has suspended a major pilot project aimed at helping the local community prepare for extreme weather. 

In a variety of ways not immediately apparent to the average citizen, congressional obstruction of rational budgeting will undermine national preparedness for climate-related disruption and extreme events.

The Washington Post reported (May 13 online; May 14 hard copy):

Firefighting capacity for wildfires curbed by funding cuts, officials say

The government is facing the possibility of yet another historic wildfire season with significantly fewer funds to pay for firefighters, equipment, fire prevention and recovery as a result of budget cuts from the sequester, officials announced Monday.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said his agency, which is largely responsible for fighting monster fires along with the Interior Department, will try to manage burns with 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer engines and by shifting money earmarked for prevention to pay for fire suppression. …

The sequester cut more than $115 million from the federal wildland fire program budget, USDA officials have said, at a time when the nation continues to face abnormally dry conditions, particularly in the West, as a result of climate change. …

Over the past 15 years, the nation has experienced its 12 hottest years on record. And since 2000, fires have burned bigger than ever. …

Jason Samenow reported in the Washington Post (May 9 online, May 13 hard copy):

Hiring freeze hobbling operations at local Weather Service office

The National Weather Service office serving Washington and Baltimore has lost a third of its forecasting staff in the last year and, due to a NOAA-wide hiring freeze, no relief is around the corner. This deficit has forced the suspension of a major pilot project aimed at helping the local community prepare for extreme weather.

The pilot project, part of the NWS’s Weather Ready Nation program, was kicked off with much fanfare last fall, 

Previously, the emergency response meteorologists were tasked to assist “on the scene” during major weather events, offering on-demand briefings to emergency managers and stakeholders. They also were charged with developing more event-specific forecasts, explaining possible impacts in detail, and getting key messages out using new communication technologies and social media. …

Earlier posts:

To Politicians Napping on the Fireline: Wake Up, Smell the Smoke and Act on Climate Change

Federal report warns of costly impacts to US cities from changing weather extremes


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