Federal meteorologists unable to attend annual meeting due to shutdown

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By: Charles Roop | WCTV Pinpoint Weather
January 11, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — Meteorologists at federal agencies such as the National Weather Service, Storm Prediction Center and National Hurricane Center are all working - without pay - to issue forecasts, watches and warnings. But that’s it.

The limited duties because of the federal government shutdown meant a lot of people were missing at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society this week in Phoenix, Arizona. The shutdown prevented federal employees from attending. Nearly 700 had to cancel the trip, the AMS said in an email. Also, nearly 300 presentations withdrawn.

There was disappointment on social media that meteorologists from varying government offices.

Florida State University meteorology graduate student Jake Carstens attended the meeting and presented a poster. He’s disappointed he couldn't see and hear from experts at the federal agencies.

"All of these different weather events we could have learned more about from the people that were in the line of fire essentially as well as some of the communication aspect of things,” he said in a lab at FSU’s Love Building. "Their presence is invaluable.”

Carstens says that missing knowledge will trickle down to the general public.

"Those conversations, you know, potential debates that we might have, are really how we grow as scientists and as a field as a whole,” he said.

The shutdown also bothers those who want to work for the NWS. FSU meteorology junior Michael Anand is one of those, and attended the annual meeting.

"You don't know when it's going to happen and it's something you can't control,” Anand said during a Skype interview. That might be one of the cons about working in the government."

Anand also found it disappointing that the NWS’ presence was missing.

“A lot of the talks I was scheduled to go to involved them, and it was kind of like missing a big part of that conference,” he said.

Both Anand and Carstens mentioned the lack of valuable information on Hurricane Michael, which made landfall in the Florida panhandle in October 2018.

“You really weren’t able to hear what was really happening behind the scenes in the forecasting office,” Anand said.

Carstens said he missed a valuable talk that was originally scheduled about communicating and operating through Hurricane Michael, as well as Hurricane Florence which made landfall in the Carolinas a month before Michael.

“This [session] was supposed to be the science behind it, the experience of going through it,” he said. “Some aspects of storm anxiety and some of the other mental health characteristics of dealing with a storm like this.”

“We had the science behind it and plenty of aspects of that from people in academia and the private sector,” Carstens said. “But in terms of that public communication side of things - as well as, of course, the presence of the [National Hurricane Center] and other organizations like that, there is a lot we missed.

The annual meeting is over, but the impacts of the government shutdown may have a ripple effect in the weather community and, therefore, the general public.

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