Weather Service staff toils through shutdown

Neither rain, nor hail, nor sleet nor snow — nor government shutdown, nor lack of pay — kept local National Weather Service employees from fulfilling their appointed duties this month.

The 24-person Grand Junction staff remained on the job throughout the shutdown, which Congress ended Wednesday with legislation that was signed by President Barack Obama.

The local office has been running during the shutdown “just about the same as it was before, because 95 percent of what we do is for the protection of life and property,” local NWS forecaster Chris Cuoco explained.

That has meant that the agency’s primary work of issuing weather forecasts and warnings has continued, he said. So has record-keeping of weather information largely gathered by volunteers.

“We’re working for no money at this point,” Grand Junction meteorologist Joe Ramey said Wednesday.

At a time of widespread federal worker furloughs, the NWS stood out as a major exception. A U.S. Department of Commerce pre-shutdown plan called for 3,935 NWS employees to be required to remain on the job “to provide the nation with weather, water, climate, and air quality forecasts and warnings for imminent threats to protect life and property.”

Ramey said he’d been getting by financially but that if the shutdown had continued he would have to contact Alpine Bank, which has been offering no-interest loans to federal workers to cover missing paychecks.

“It’s an interesting situation,” he said of the shutdown and its impact on federal workers. “It’s part of being a civil servant, part of being not very valued in today’s society.”

Ramey was hopeful Wednesday that — as during the shutdown in the mid-1990s, which he also went through as a federal worker — employees would receive back pay.

“I do enjoy my job and I’m glad to be here, and it’s a great job to forecast the weather for the National Weather Service, especially in this portion of the country,” he said. “Yeah, I like coming to work. I also like getting paid.”


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