The labor union representing the National Weather Service offered a rather dire assessment this week, telling the Washington Post that its lack of staff is taking a toll on forecasting operations and that the agency is "for the first time in its history teetering on the brink of failure."
The article painted an alarming portrait of overworked staff and uncertainty about the impact this might have on forecasts and warnings. The Burlington Free-Press had a related report last week.
Brooke Taber, a Weather Service forecaster and union steward, told Vermont's latest newspaper, "Given our staffing, our ability to fill our mission of protecting life and property would be nearly impossible if we had a big storm."
It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump has chosen a nominee to lead the agency that oversees the National Weather Service. As the Washington Post also reported, the president recently tapped AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
At first blush, part of the problem with the selection is that NOAA chiefs have traditionally been scientists, and Myers is a businessman and a lawyer. But in this case, the concerns run deeper.
As NOAA administrator, Myers would be in charge of the Weather Service whose data are heavily used by his family business, based in State College, Pa.AccuWeather has, in the past, supported measures to limit the extent to which the Weather Service can release information to the public, so that private companies could generate their own value-added products using this same information.
Ciaran Clayton, who was communications director at NOAA in the Obama administration, told the paper, "Barry Myers defines 'conflict of interest. He actively lobbied to privatize the National Weather Service, which works day in and day out to protect the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans, to benefit his own company's bottom line."
As Rachel put it on a recent show, Myers has specifically worked to "limit the amount of information the weather service provides to the public for free, so his family business instead can do that for profit. A for-profit National Hurricane Center, right? What could possibly go wrong?"
It will be up to the Republican-run Senate to consider his nomination. Confirmation hearings have not yet been scheduled.