WHAT FURLOUGH? by Joe Stevens

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Hello Everyone –

So I start off this week’s column with a question, were you like me and checked your weather app numerous times this past week seeing just how much snow was predicted to fall at your favorite ski resort? Well I am here to let you know, the person who researched and produced the weather forecast you read, was not, and I repeat not, paid to make sure you knew what was going to happen, as it pertains to the weather.

Even if you were using The Weather Channel’s app or some other forecasting service’s app, the information used by those forecasters originated for the most part from the National Weather Service (NWS).

You probably already know this, but every forecaster or technician at NWS is an employee of the federal government. Just in case you have been under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you know there is a government shutdown here in the United States right now. That means those NWS employees continue to make it into their office and aren’t being paid to do so.

Up until this season, I had the pleasure of coaching some great kids on the Hurricane Middle School’s Cross-Country team and one of those runners is the daughter of the Lead Meteorologist at the Charleston, West Virginia NWS office. Because of the cross-country connection I have become friends with Jamie Bielinski and her staff at the forecasting office. This has been very beneficial in providing up to date weather information for the West Virginia mountains for members of the West Virginia Ski Areas Association.

This got me to thinking that just how many of us would show up to work knowing full well you knew there wasn’t going to be a paycheck at the end of the tunnel. I truly don’t think many of us would be stepping up to the non-paying work place. I mean, come on, be honest, you are probably like me with the thinking of, “No Ticket, No Laundry.”

Many of you probably don’t know (Mike does) I also do morning and afternoon news for WMOV AM/FM in Ravenswood, West Virginia. With all of this is mind, I interviewed Dave Marsalek, a representative of the NWS Employees Organization and a meteorologist at the Charleston NWS office. I asked him what is the attitude of the NWS employees right now that are having to staff the weather offices 24/7 without being paid, “There are some frustrations right now but at the end of the day, we are all dedicated to what we do and we understand during active weather periods like we are currently experiencing, that our mission is to provide the public up to date weather information and we are committed to help protect lives and property.” Sure hope that makes you think a little bit the next time you hit that app to see how many layers you are going to have to wear, while you enjoy sliding on the snow.

Speaking only for myself here, but if I knew I wasn’t going to be paid for my day’s work, my attitude might not be as strong as I would like. Marsalek told me, “It can be difficult to keep going knowing that while we aren’t going to be paid, the rest of the world continues with mortgage payments coming due, car payments are due, etc., but again we are committed to what we do and we will continue to do so because we know everyone depends on the forecasting we provide and we will keep on providing that information, but it is tough.”

Motivation is a key for me when things are happening as it pertains to the ski industry in West Virginia. I get pumped when each resort announces its opening day or the resorts are receiving natural snow during an active weather period like we are currently in across the region. Marsalek said despite the lack of a paycheck the forecasters motivation hasn’t wavered, “Basically all of the forecasters get together prior to sitting down in front of their computers and talk about the task at hand and go about informing everyone of the weather system that is affecting the entire state.”

As most of you know of my connection with the West Virginia Ski Areas Association and I am here to tell you, I don’t know where we would be without the dedicated forecasters at the NWS office. I am of the opinion that when I get a weather forecast, please tell me what I need to know, not what I want to know. What I mean by that is, yes, I am in the snow sports industry and love snow, I mean love snow and what it means to my family’s livelihood. But don’t tell me there’s a 10 percent chance of us getting 10-inches of snow, when in reality, the accumulation is more than likely to be in the say three-inch range. What I have found with the folks at NWS, they are not snow gooses and bumping the forecasted accumulation total whenever possible isn’t what they do. They truly give forecasted totals that nine times out of ten are on the money.

I tell you all this information about the folks at NWS working without being paid in this week’s column, because there is no mention of the situation on any NWS site. I realize, the information doesn’t belong on any page of a NWS site and that’s the point. There hundreds of weather forecasters out there right now putting their political thoughts and paychecks to the side and making sure all of us are up to speed on what is happening out our front doors. I for one am very appreciative of all of their efforts and just thought you needed to know and to all NWS forecasters out there, thanks for burning the midnight oil.

Editor’s note: Note the NWS Facebook post on Jan 4th.

That’s it for this week, of course, there’s more to come as the season continues. Just remember whether it be cold or whether it be hot, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be. Think about it! See you on the slopes.

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