Weather Service employees forecast difficult times ahead if government shutdown doesn't end

Posted January 21, 2019 7:29 p.m. EST

— At the National Weather Service office in Raleigh, meteorologists are watching more than approaching weather systems these days.

The forecasters are also keeping an eye on the partial federal government shutdown, which was in its 31st day on Monday.

Under the shutdown, NWS workers fall in the group of essential employees. As the shutdown drags on, they said, it's harder – sometimes impossible – to do their jobs adequately.

"We know it's not just us, but it is a punch to the gut," said meteorologist Brandon Dunstan, who represents his co-workers in their employee organization. "We're about to miss our second paycheck this coming week."

"We’re here to do our jobs. We’re going to continue to protect life and property through issuing watches and warnings and the forecast," he added. "We’re just going to do what we can do."

Although the 18 employees in the NWS office on North Carolina State University's Centennial Campus are still issueing weather watches and warnings, the shutdown prevents them from doing other duties, Dunstan said.

"Some of our equipment that has failed in the field. We're not allowed to go repair at this time," he said, noting that they can't monitor levels on the Tar River near Louisburg because a gauge is broken.

Aside from the professional impact, there's a personal one, too, said Dunstan, who has a wife and two children, with a third child on the way.

"I think [for] any family, it would be difficult on to take one of the incomes out, whether it’s a primary income or just a second income in the household. We do have some employees that it is definitely the primary income," he said. "Some of the difficulties employees are facing is making choices [of] what bills to pay, such as mortgage, rent, day care, student loans. It's definitely taking an impact on the staff."

The local NWS office is understaffed, he said, so employees are now working overtime and cannot take days off. Morale in the office is getting lower, and the only hope is an end to the shutdown, he said.

"It's critical not only to the services and the morale of the employees and being able to get paid, but to the morale of the country," he said.