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Proposed weather service cuts have some concerned

Proposals to cut the budget of the National Weather Service are beginning to worry people in charge of weather forecasting and public safety.

Bills in the U.S. Senate and House have proposed cuts ranging from $110 million to $454 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration , which operates the National Weather Service.

Police Sgt. Jon Turk, Rochester's emergency manager for the city of Rochester, works with the Olmsted County Emergency Management Operations Center to issue warnings about severe weather. While he doesn't know yet how budget reductions would impact local operations, he said it is a concern.

"The La Crosse, Wis., weather office is our primary provider of weather information, and we rely heavily on them to help us with planning, looking at community events and community response. So, we wouldn't want to see a change in that," Turk said.

The House recently approved Resolution 1, which also includes a number of appropriations for the Department of Defense and other government departments. It would cut $126 million from the National Weather Service budget, according to information provided on the website of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

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The bill calls for rolling 27-day closures, essentially furloughs, at 22 of the 125 weather service forecast offices.

With a much less severe cut, the Senate bill, if passed, would have a milder effect on National Weather Service operations. Negotiations continue in Congress, and the Senate has not yet voted on its bill.

In the meantime, employees of the weather service worry that as severe weather season approaches, the budget-cutting measures could compromise their abilities to forecast storms and floods.

The La Crosse office has 25 employees, most of whom are meteorologists. There are at least two people monitoring the weather there 24-7.

"The weather doesn't take the day off, so I guess we can't either," said Mike Welvaert, the La Crosse office's hydrologist.

"During a severe weather event, there can be as many as eight or nine people working, doing everything from answering phones to updating forecasts to letting pilots know what's coming, putting out warnings and talking with ham radio operators," Welvaert said. "And we're dealing with the media and law enforcement. It gets quite busy around here."

Last year, the La Crosse office was busy issuing tornado warnings for the area and Welvaert was involved in warning the public about rising rivers during the flooding in September. He said he expects his office and other weather service offices in the region to be busy again this spring with flood conditions.

"The whole state is under the gun with as much snow and rain that we had in the past six months," he said.

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A NOAA spokesperson declined to comment on the proposed cuts, but she referred to a White House statement that President Obama's administration "strongly opposes" the cuts proposed by House Resolution 1.

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