A swarm of tornadoes that killed three professional storm chasers, one amateur storm chaser, and nine other people in Oklahoma on Friday night convinced NOAA to make sure its meteorologists and other staff members stay on the job. That, and some pressure from Congress.
NOAA Acting Administrator Kathryn Sullivan sent an email to all of her staff as midnight approached on Friday, telling them that the agency was canceling its furlough plans for employees, including those at the National Weather Service.
The furloughs had been intended to help the agency deal with the mind-numbing sequester cuts that are being imposed on all federal agencies. But the furlough plans had been sharply criticized by members of Congress, including Republicans, who feared that forcing the agency’s weather forecasters to stay at home on certain days could cost American lives.
From Sullivan’s email, which was posted online by The Washington Post:
The events over the past week, including more devastating tornadoes tonight in Oklahoma and Missouri, remind us how important every single employee within NOAA is to the health, safety, and well-being of this nation. …
That is precisely why I’m pleased to report that this evening the Department of Commerce transmitted to Congress a new sequestration plan. This was possible because of an increase in flexibility in how we use our funding within the organization.
Because of this new development we are cancelling our intent to furlough all 12,000 of our employees.
This is good news for all those who appreciate — and might even by saved by — accurate weather forecasts. But it doesn’t mean sequester constraints are going away. The Commerce Department, which houses NOAA, will now have to find other ways to chop down its budget.