Safety fears surround National Weather Service cuts

As central Indiana enters severe weather season, there's concern that national budget cuts could impact safety and lives.
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Nicole Misencik/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - While the weather affects everything from grocery shopping and travel to general health and welfare, attempts to balance the national budget may include cuts in funding to the National Weather Service by 30 percent. 

As central Indiana enters severe weather season, there's concern that national budget cuts could impact safety and lives.

"I would have died. I wouldn't be here today," said Betty Strohm, who lives just across the road from where an F2 tornado tore through her south side Indianapolis neighborhood in September 2002.  "I would not have lived through that had I not heard the sirens and gone in when I did."

Right now, the National Weather Service is facing budget cuts upwards of $126 million but some feel as though safety will be the largest cost.

"It's going to take back the accuracy of our forecasts by decades,"  said Dan Sobien, President of the National Weather Service Employee Organization. "And quite frankly it's risking people's lives."

One proposal facing the National Weather Service is the closure of offices in something resembling a rolling blackout.

"One would close down for a month, then open up," said Sobien. "Then the next one downstream would close down and that would open back up."

Essentially, if the Indianapolis National Weather Service office were to close temporarily, a neighboring office in Ohio, Illinois or even northern Indiana could be responsible for issuing central Indiana's weather warnings.

"For us the most important thing they do is issue warnings and watches for severe weather, and especially now moving into the spring that is a huge responsibility they have," said Channel 13 Meteorologist Chuck Lofton.  "A five-minute delay could be tragic and you just hope that in this whole process that is being thought about."

The bill has passed the US House and is now in the Senate. If it is passed and signed by President Obama, it will take effect March 4th.  The Obama administration maintains that if the bill undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, Obama will veto the bill.

"We need to find cuts and we need to do things," Sobien said. "But this is lifesaving work we do."