While urging coastal residents to prepare for the Atlantic hurricane season, officials said Friday that they were doing what they could to get ready for a storm season that includes furloughs in the agencies that forecast and respond to tropical storms.
Furloughs required by the federal budget cuts known as the sequester are expected to affect the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the country's hurricane forecasting hub in Miami, and the National Guard, which can be deployed during disasters.
There are seven National Weather Service Forecast Centers in Florida. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said NOAA employees will receive their furlough notices next week. Because of federal budget cuts, two positions are already frozen in a Tallahassee office, and that center could lose as many as four more meteorologists.
"We typically support the emergency management and decision makers all around the region," said senior forecaster Jeff Evans. "When they have to make a very significant decision for them, we try to walk them through that make sure they fully understand the threat that's coming."
Meanwhile, National Guard technicians who maintain equipment that can be deployed after a hurricane are expected to be furloughed on 11 Mondays throughout the summer, she said.
The furloughs are "the last thing we should be doing" during hurricane season," Wasserman Schultz said.
National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb said he did not yet know how the furloughs would affect his employees, but he said any staffing concerns will be addressed agency-wide. The hurricane center said any furloughs would be cancelled if a storm were approaching.
"Everybody is doing what we can to get ready," said the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate.
He warned, though, that the furloughs' effects may stretch beyond this hurricane season, because training is being postponed and equipment maintenance may get deferred.
Gov. Rick Scott has said the cuts threaten to strain Florida's readiness capability. According to Scott, the cuts mean nearly 1,000 Florida National Guardsmen and technicians will have to take furloughs during the summer.
"I hope everybody is prepared, but I'm extremely disappointed in federal government in cutting back on funding for National Guard right in the middle of hurricane season," Scott said.
"It may have some impacts on long-term recovery if the furloughs continue. Naturally, we're concerned, but we feel they'll do the right thing when the time comes," said Mike DeLorenzo, Florida's deputy emergency management director.
On Friday, Fugate joined Knabb, Wasserman Schultz and other Florida elected officials and National Weather Service staff at the hurricane center to urge coastal residents to start making preparations now, before any storm threatens shore.
Residents should know whether they live in evacuation zones, stockpile enough supplies to survive several days without power, check their insurance coverage and always heed evacuation orders, they said.
The six-month hurricane season begins Saturday.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said he would again file a bill that would create a national catastrophe fund to spread the risk and cost of major disasters -- including floods and tornadoes, not just hurricanes -- among all the states.
Nelson said the legislation could help distribute resources quickly after any disaster and lower property insurance rates.