The partial government shutdown in the U.S. is nearing the three-week mark. National museums are closed, trash is overflowing at understaffed national parks, and airport security is at stake with TSA screeners calling in sick over their pay.
Yet there’s another, more niche but critical area that’s also affected by the shutdown: weather forecasting. While the National Weather Service is technically considered essential and therefore shouldn’t be affected by the shutdown, that doesn’t paint a complete picture of the situation.
Staff, such as forecasters and managers, are not being paid during the shutdown, but many are nonetheless expected to work. This is important because the service is responsible for developing forecast models, which don’t just tell Americans the expected weather in a given location, but also helps predict extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.
The shutdown means that these models are not being kept up-to-date, nor are National Weather Service staff able to make planned improvements to the models. Any delays and interruptions to such work means the effects will continue to be felt long after the shutdown ends.
Until then, don’t be surprised if your forecasts are a little less accurate. That’s unless IBM comes to the rescue with its new GRAF system being announced at CES:2019, which aims to make weather forecasting 200% more accurate. Until then, you may just have to grab an umbrella and hope for the best.