Local National Weather Service offices are staffed by meteorologists around the clock. They offer updates about severe weather and other emergencies, as with the tornadoes that touched down in North Carolina this week. But the Weather Service is facing a protracted staffing shortage nationwide.
Brandon Dunstan is a meteorologist and member of the National Weather Service Employees Organization. He says the hiring rate in the Raleigh office is much slower than the retiring rate over the past five years, and a quarter of the office's dozen meteorologist positions are now vacant. Dunstan said that makes 24/7 coverage harder to manage, let alone backup for emergencies.
"Instead of just having to staff up for when we have severe weather, we're having to staff up just to cover the shift vacancies," Dunstan said. "I had to work, let's see, 21 days in a row earlier this year without a day off."
Dunstan agreed on an interview on his day off. He says morale is suffering at his office, and that employees are getting sick more often.
"If you push your body harder than it's normally to be pushed and you're sleep-deprived, you're going to get sick more," he said. "And we've seen that at our office. We've also seen people that have been definitely more stressed out, shorter fuse than normally would be."
National Weather Service Spokesman Chris Vaccaro wrote in an e-mail that the office is working to curb the staffing shortage.
"The National Weather Service is actively working to fill vacancies throughout the agency to the extent our appropriation allows," said Vaccaro, adding that a new employee starts next month, and a search for another will begin soon. "As we do so, we continue provide the critical forecasts and warnings that the nation needs and expects."
Vaccaro says managers fill in as needed.