For several years, the NWS has struggled with funding to pay for staff. Last year, it was embroiled in a "reprogramming" scandal in which it moved millions of dollars between accounts without congressional approval.
Recognizing the squeeze on the NWS budget in light of the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the Commerce Department, wrote on March 5 to Rebecca Blank, acting commerce secretary, saying his committee "would be willing to consider a reprogamming on an expedited basis" to prevent negative impacts on forecasting.
The Commerce Department has warned that sequestration could be detrimental to NWS operations, but there has been no official word of mandatory furloughs or hiring freezes applicable to forecasters.
According to Sobien, one sequestration proposal floated by the NWS involves reducing the frequency and number of soundings, or weather balloons. The data from these soundings are important inputs for weather-prediction models.
The sounding reduction "would result in up to a 30 percent decrease in forecast accuracy," Sobien said. "The cost to the country [of the reduced forecast accuracy] would be exponentially higher and could cost lives."