(NEW YORK) — With two months to go in one of the busiest hurricane seasons in recent memory, the National Weather Service is facing a different kind of problem: a shortage of meteorologists.
The NWS had 216 unfilled positions going into the season, according to a new document obtained by the Sierra Club through a Freedom of Information Act request and shared with ABC News. About 100 of those positions were in meteorology.
As of Wednesday, according to a spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the NWS’s parent agency, 248 vacancies exist at the NWS.
NOAA acknowledged that filling vacancies was constrained by past hiring freezes, retirement attrition and employee transfers.
However, the spokesperson insisted to ABC News the agency is “prepared for the hurricane season and is operating at full tempo.”
According to a report from the Government Accountability Office released in May, the NWS, an agency considered long understaffed by the GAO, was so short of employees that managers and staff couldn’t complete “key tasks.”
These tasks included providing weather information to state and local emergency managers, which is vital to keeping the public informed during severe weather events.
The NOAA spokesperson said the NWS will “continue providing the critical forecasts and services that the public, emergency managers and other partners need to make informed decisions and remain safe.”
The GOA report said staff members in some units said employees have been unable to take sick leave “because they did not want to leave their units short-staffed.” Officials at most NWS regional headquarters reported employees feeling “stress, fatigue, and reduced morale” from their work to compensate for the vacancies.
So far, the Atlantic has seen five major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) during the 2017 season; two short of the record set in 2005 that saw seven major hurricanes.
In an average year, the Atlantic sees two to three major hurricanes.
According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted Sept. 18-21, seven in 10 people called the federal government’s response to the hurricanes “good” or excellent.”
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