The Government Employees Responsible For Saving Us From Hurricanes Are Working For No Pay
Tropical Storm Karen, currently swirling around the Gulf of Mexico, “is the first tropical storm, possibly hurricane, that’s really, truly threatened the U.S. coast in 2013,” says Angela Fritz of weather information service Weather Underground. This season was predicted to be a rough one for hurricanes, and it’s turned out oddly mild, which has left everyone especially on their toes. Karen is projected to make landfall somewhere between New Orleans and Tallahassee, possibly as a Category 1 hurricane. And most of the people responsible for tracking the storm, warning the public, and studying the storm for use in the future are either not allowed to work or forced to work for no pay.
Storm tracking is a difficult science, handled by several branches of government as well as scores of private companies. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the National Weather Service (NWS) are departments within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, pronounced like the name “Noah”), which in turn is under the control of the U.S. Department of Commerce (though President Obama, noting that this makes no sense, announced plans to move NOAA under the control of the Department of the Interior). Then there’s FEMA, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security. All of these organizations work with companies like Weather Underground, the Weather Channel, and various laboratories and researchers and university departments. The NWS gets most of the raw data from satellites and radar, which is shared with the private companies. In turn, the private companies can get much more granular on-the-ground data, which they share with the NWS, NHC, and FEMA. It’s enormously complex in the best of times, and right now is far from the best of times.