Those Omaha-area National Weather Service meteorologists who worked their day off last week to issue life-saving tornado warnings for Wayne and Macy, Neb.?
The ones in Rapid City, S.D., who hiked through a winter storm to alert ranchers and residents of the deadly blizzard sweeping along the Nebraska-South Dakota border?
They were, and still are, working without pay.
The federal shutdown has meant that most National Weather Service meteorologists are among the hundreds of thousands of federal employees required to work on an undated IOU. They won't be paid for work done after Sept. 30 until Congress ends the shutdown.
The heads of local weather service offices said they're not surprised by their employees' dedication.
David Carpenter, meteorologist-in-charge in Rapid City, said his staff pulled out the cots and sleeping bags because record-setting snows made going home impractical. Two employees walked through blizzardlike conditions to get to the office, with one making a one-and-a-half mile hike.
In Omaha, several employees worked overtime, some on their normal day off, others staying hours past the end of their shift, said James Meyer, meteorologist-in-charge.
“The bottom line is we're here,” Meyer said. “We're going to continue to show up and do everything possible to make sure nobody gets hurt during any kind of nasty weather.”
As the storm system swept across the Plains, three Lincoln residents died on a snow-slickened road in northwest Nebraska. In northeast Nebraska, more than a dozen were injured in the tornadoes.
Federal law tightly restricts what can – and can't be done – during a shutdown. As a result, the normally routine damage survey that is done after tornadoes required a few extra hoops last week.
Meyer said his crews got out in the field on time, but he did need to make several phone calls and emails to get clearance for his staff to fill the vehicle with gas and head into the field. Damage surveys determine whether a tornado did in fact occur and where it ranked on the Enhanced Fujita scale.
Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, said the disruption is eroding morale and could make it harder to recruit talented people.
“This isn't what they signed up for,” he said.
The shutdown also has meant maintenance of weather service equipment is on hold. Only emergency repairs can be done.
Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society, said the shutdown and ongoing budget problems are compromising basic research and the weather service's ability to gear up the best available forecasting equipment.