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Chief forecaster vows to quit if cuts imposed

The man in charge of forecasts for the National Weather Service said Monday he will quit after nearly four decades in the profession rather than impose job cuts that he contends will threaten public safety.

Cutbacks announced last week will undermine the weather service's ability to predict severe weather, Ron McPherson said in a news conference at the National Hurricane Center, one of the centers that will be affected.

"It's a very dangerous situation," said McPherson, director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction. "My conscience as a civil servant of 37-plus years will not allow me to be a party to reductions that I feel are ill advised."

Weather service executives said last week a $27.5-million budget shortfall was forcing them to make cutbacks but denied that public safety would be harmed. The budget cuts also are being protested by the rank and file of the weather service, state emergency managers and elected officials, including the governors of hurricane-wary Florida and North Carolina.

About $3.7-million of the cuts are coming from the nation's six prediction centers, which oversee forecasts of hurricanes, tornadoes and thunderstorms, as well as weather for the aviation industry.

Under that reduction, McPherson said he was forced to recommend slashing the night shift at five of the prediction groups to one person. If the cuts are not called off by mid-July, McPherson said, he will quit.

McPherson fears a lone forecaster sitting in one of the storm centers will be overwhelmed if forced to monitor two or more severe weather systems. There have been four tropical storms active at the same time in seven of the past 103 years, and two hurricanes formed on the same day in 1995, he noted.

The weather service also said it will close its Southern regional headquarters at Fort Worth, Texas, responsible for 10 states from New Mexico to Florida, and split its duties between offices in Bohemia, N.Y., and Kansas City, Mo.

Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles will go to Washington today to urge Commerce Secretary Bill Daley to reverse the cuts, and also hopes to discuss the situation with President Clinton, said Chiles spokeswoman April Herrle.