Hurricane or government shutdown: Which is scarier?

The U.S. Capitol is pictured in Washington on October 1, 2013 during the first day of the federal government shutdown.

With Tropical Storm Karen heading for the Gulf Coast, an early blizzard socking in the Midwest, and conditions ripe for wildfires around Los Angeles, severe weather is coming at a tough time for the federal agencies that deal with disasters. 

While most of the National Hurricane Center’s staff are deemed essential, FEMA has had to scramble to recall furloughed workers, because it needs to prepare ahead of time for storms and hurricanes

“The more lead time you have the better," said Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia. "So you would have to think furloughed workers being called back affects the response time.”

Some meteorologists at the National Weather Service are considered non-essential and have been furloughed. Among them, Amy Fritz. 

“I build and develop models that predict storm surge," she said at a press conference earlier this week. "And right now we’re making critical improvements to those models.”

The folks who run the weather service’s Twitter feed aren’t considered essential, either, so it’s frozen even though it was a prime source of information during the recent Colorado floods. 

And the shutdown has led to extra bureaucratic burdens, said Nancy Colleton, president of the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies.

"Every expenditure that the National Weather Service is incurring during this period has to be approved by the Secretary of Commerce,” she said.

The Commerce Secretary oversees the weather service but normally doesn’t have to approve the cost of every weather balloon or hurricane hunting flight.  But then, these aren’t normal times on the weather map, or in Washington.  

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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