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Monday, February 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Weather

Spokane’s National Weather Service employees feeling strain of government shutdown

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 18, 2019

Monitors charting weather patterns are seen inside the Spokane office of the National Weather Service Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Monitors charting weather patterns are seen inside the Spokane office of the National Weather Service Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Patience is wearing thin at the National Weather Service office in Spokane as its 25 employees remain unpaid and their jobs continue to be restricted by the longest federal government shutdown in the country’s history, which started on Dec. 22.

Jon Fox, union steward to the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO), said weather forecasting isn’t being affected, but a lack of preventive maintenance could lead to trouble if any weather sensors or other equipment breaks or malfunctions.

“We were told the electronic technicians were to hold off from preventative maintenance,” he said. “If something goes bad and we don’t have the technicians to fix it, it could lead to bad operations at airports.”

In an emergency, which hasn’t yet occurred during the shutdown, he would be able to get technicians to fix the problem after it’s been found, he said.

NWS workers are also barred from traveling. Ordinarily, schools request to tour the NWS branch or ask to have a meteorologist visit about once a week, he said. Meteorologists also often travel to other counties to talk to emergency planning committees, which want to be able to prepare for future weather conditions and possible emergencies. None of that has happened, Fox said.

The travel restrictions have also meant that no newer employees can train, Fox said.

Employees are trained to be a human element backstopping weather radar, but those “weather spotters” aren’t being trained right now.

NWS employees have been told they will be paid for the work they’re currently doing, Fox said.

But one of the 25 employees, an administrative assistant, is only allowed to work three hours every other week, and she doesn’t have the guarantee that she’ll get paid during the shutdown.

“She’s particularly irate about the whole thing,” Fox said.

Matters of health are also a consideration.

Fox said on Sunday, at home, his dog tripped him and hurt his foot, and he has put off seeing his doctor because if he goes on furlough for the day, there’s no guarantee he’ll get paid back for that. And that applies to all meteorologists at the NWS.

Fox said he can’t remember a government shutdown that didn’t appear to have an end in sight.

“Unlike the other shutdowns in the past, we’re not hopeful that anything will change soon,” he said. “The morale is sinking.”

President Trump tweeted Friday afternoon that he’ll hold a news conference Friday regarding the shutdown, and it could be a signal of the shutdown’s ending.

“I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown, tomorrow afternoon at 3 P.M., live from the @WhiteHouse,” he tweeted.

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