Public Safety

National Weather Service monitoring incoming Iowa snowstorm despite shutdown

Trucks dump sand into a pile as they prepare for the winter storm at the City Services Center on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The sand, which was from the 2016 floods, is run through a sifter to separate out the debris. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Trucks dump sand into a pile as they prepare for the winter storm at the City Services Center on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The sand, which was from the 2016 floods, is run through a sifter to separate out the debris. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The government shutdown is not stopping National Weather Service meteorologists from keeping a close eye on the winter storms expected to hit the entire state starting Friday

Brian Pierce, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Quad Cities office said in the next 24 to 48 hours a “significant winter storm will hit throughout the Midwest and bring widespread accumulating snow.”

Pierce is one of 4,000 National Weather Service employees, working without pay this month because of the partial federal government shutdown.

He declined to discuss the shutdown or its impact on his office, instead stating, “The National Weather Service will continue to provide forecasts and warnings for the protection life and property.”

The National Weather Service predicts the Corridor could see between 6 and 10 inches of snow this weekend.

“Unlike the last storm, this snow will be dry and fluffy, and if there is significant wind, we can easily see drifting and blowing snow,” he said.

That snowstorm will be followed by “below normal” temperatures that will last through the weekend and into next week, Pierce said, with a “high probability of below-zero temperatures for overnight lows.”

A series of storms are expected to follow in the coming week, Pierce said, and all are expected to bring additional snow accumulation and frigid temperatures.

Even during a government shutdown, the weather service’s offices are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and everyone rotates from day to swing to night shift, according to the Washington Post. In that time, forecasters issue watches and warnings, and work with emergency managers in the case of life-threatening disasters.

The partial government shutdown does not affect National Weather Service operations related to its mission to protect lives and property, according to The Post. But there are other ways the shutdown does affect its operations. Forecasters and managers are not getting paid. Weather models are not being maintained, launched or improved. Emergency managers are not being trained. The effects of which, according to The Post, could stretch well beyond when the government reopens.

Winter happens to be a critical time for hurricane model updates, said Eric Blake, the National Weather Service union steward at the National Hurricane Center. In November and December, researchers look back at the storms of the previous season to see how the models did, and try to tweak them to perform better next season. They use the months from January to June to make improvements.

“You evaluate what happened, and you use that to push forward,” Blake said. “Almost none of that is happening” because of the shutdown.

They also use this time to train emergency managers from Texas to Maine before the start of the next hurricane season. That’s not happening, and it’s not clear whether the weeklong sessions will be made up when the government reopens.

The Washington Post contributed to this story.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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