Snowtown losing weather service office?
City protests NOAA proposal to cut employees to one half-timer
Valdez Star Photo
An employee of the National Weather Service working at the snow field the Valdez office maintains to track snowfall and snow depth.
Elected officials in Valdez are demanding the National Weather Service expand its current three-employee operation to a full-time weather station.
The move comes after a weather service representative visited city officials and other vital entities in Valdez with the news that severe cuts were under serious consideration for the number of on-site staff at the Valdez weather service office.
Under the proposal, the local office would shrink to support one half-time position. The Valdez office currently employs three full-time positions. Three years ago, the office ran as a full-time 24 hour operation, but shrank its staffing to three employees with limited hours of operation.
The council was slated to pass a resolution protesting the latest move a week ago Monday, but tabled the matter until last Thursday’s special meeting in order to change the language in the document after hearing public testimony voicing concerns that Valdez needed a fully staffed 24 hour office.
Council decided to not merely protest the latest proposed cut, but to demand the office return to its former status as a 24-hour fully manned operation.
Official forecasts for Valdez and surrounding areas in Prince William Sound and the Copper Basin are issued by the Anchorage weather service office, and weather officials have argued that because the Valdez office does not officially issue weather forecasts, it is not necessary to fully man – or woman – the Valdez office.
A number of Valdez citizens disagree. So do the mayor and city council of Valdez.
The council resolution argues that because Valdez “experiences some of the most severe land and marine weather on the planet” while serving as a home base for infrastructure critical to the state and local economy, including but not limited to the Valdez Marine Terminal, where oil tankers laden with crude oil regularly sail, it is critical that the National Weather Service have boots on the ground in Valdez.
US Coast Guard operations, the port’s sizeable fishing fleet, the town’s critical care hospital and other important infrastructure are named in the resolution backing up the council’s demand.
“So many important things for the nation happen here,” Lynn Chrystal testified.
Chrystal, himself a former Valdez mayor, is retired from the National Weather Service. He testified he’s spent most of his 25-year career as a weather man in Valdez and encouraged the council to demand the weather service restore the local operation back to a full-time office.
Valdez Star file photo
The average yearly snowfall in Valdez totals 27 feet and it is not unusual for the town’s people to endure storms with sustained winds of 70 miles per hour. Sustained wind gusts of over 100 miles per hour have been recorded. This photo dated November 2011 shows people trying to walk against wind gusts of over 70 miles per hour, with blowing ice and snow in the surrounding air.
The resolution carries no legal authority with National Weather Service, which is a federally run agency and is a branch of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is, however, a strong statement to the weather service.
“The Valdez City Council hereby opposes any further loss of personnel to the Valdez Weather Station and requests that the National Weather Service make a long term investment in the community of Valdez and Prince William Sound by committing to restoration of 24/7 local service and the replacement of previously lost personnel back to the historic level of five staff members,” the resolution says. “These members must have appropriate technical knowledge and sufficient time on station to develop extensive local expertise. This resource must also be regularly consulted for all forecasting and condition reporting for Valdez, Thompson Pass, and eastern Prince William Sound.”
The resolution passed unanimously with the mayor and all council members present.
Current Valdez staff will be transferred to the Anchorage office if the Valdez cuts are implemented.