Weather Service Expecting More Funds for Modernization


Meteorologists at the National Weather Service's Oxnard bureau say a change in Congress will have no effect on its operation this year, and they aren't forecasting huge changes in 1996 either.

The Oxnard bureau, which provides weather forecasts and warnings to seven Southern California counties, has an office staff of 30 and, like the 13 other bureaus across the state, is forced to make do with new restrictions limiting its operations to current staffing levels. The Weather Service is part of the Department of Commerce and has 120 weather offices across the country.

Oxnard spokesman Todd Morris says the ceiling on the number of employees cannot be blamed on the new Republican Congress because the provisions were included in the 1995 fiscal year budget, which was set before the November elections. He said this year's funding allows for a continuing modernization program that includes new radar systems at Edwards Air Force Base and in Riverside, which are supervised by the Oxnard office.

It is next fiscal year's budget that is in question, but Morris said his bosses in Washington expect Congress to approve the $2.2-billion National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget request for fiscal year 1996, which is a $161-million increase over 1995, and would complete the Weather Service's modernization.

The last phase of new radar for this region is in San Diego and Yuma, Ariz., and is scheduled for next year along with installation of automated surface observation systems at smaller area airports, including Santa Barbara, Oxnard and Camarillo.

It was the Weather Service's 1994 modernization near Ojai--a 98-foot Doppler weather radar atop Sulphur Mountain--that meteorologists credit with saving lives in the Jan. 8 flooding of the Ventura River, which shut down the Ventura Freeway during a record deluge.

Meteorologist Tim McClung said the controversial radar tower, which went into operation last March despite residents' protests, was the key to gaining a seven-hour edge in warning Ventura residents of the flooding. The radar "was essential to our ability to give early warning," he said.

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