National Weather Service considers plan to cut back operating hours at Jacksonville office

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The National Weather Service may consider a plan to scale back operating hours at National Weather Service offices across the country, including Jacksonville’s office.

It’s part of a proposal designed to make the NWS more efficient and effective, but some say the move could put people’s lives at risk.

During Hurricane Matthew, Jacksonville Beach native Evie McCoy said she relied on accurate forecasts to know what to expect.

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“Our yard was like, 3 feet in water,” said McCoy. “They gave us plenty of warning ahead of time.”

The National Weather Service Employees Organization believes that accuracy could be in jeopardy if the NWS moves forward with a proposal that would convert some of its offices from 24/7 operations to normal business hours.

“I think it’s very dangerous. I think they’re risking people’s lives, and I don’t see the benefit,” said NWSEO National President Dan Sobien.

“At the very least it's treading on thin ice. I think it's a bad idea,” said Action News Jax First Alert chief meteorologist Mike Buresh.

Buresh said the immediate impact would be on local emergency managers who depend on NWS information.

“Will they be prepared to go into action if they've scaled back?” said Buresh.

The NWS said it’s only a proposal at this point.

Acting Director of Public Affairs Susan Buchanan said:

"Since the proposal for flexibility in staffing and office hours is not one of the three we have prioritized for testing and evaluating this year, we have not yet identified which offices might be affected. The appendix slides were marked "pre-decisional" and do not reflect active proposals. When NWS identifies offices to evaluate for effectiveness of a new model for staffing and operating hours, we will communicate that information."

Buchanan said the NWS is not pursuing a reduction in overall staffing. The NWS is also not proposing to close any of its 122 weather forecast offices.

“We are going to test and evaluate how to better align our staff and operating hours with local need, moving away from the current one-size-fits-all paradigm,” said Buchanan.

Jacksonville is one of four offices in the state that would move to normal business hours: Tallahassee and Miami would remain 24/7.

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The NWS said if offices move to normal business hours, routine forecasting for our area in the overnight hours would come from nearby offices.

“It would concern me greatly to have somebody from outside of Jacksonville, even if it's still in Florida, certainly outside of Florida, I think it would be a disaster,” said Buresh.

Buresh said ultimately it comes down to serving the public especially when severe weather hits.

“In an environment where you have extreme weather, the last thing you want are fewer forecasters to help protect the public,” said Buresh.

The National Weather Service said the proposal is not considered a priority right now but it will be evaluated at some point. Buchanan said it would only be implemented if the changes provide the same or an improved level of service.