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With Tropical Storm Karen approaching, government shutdown snarls weather services — should we worry?

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MANHATTAN (PIX11) — The near-record high temperature reading in New York City on Friday, and the record high in Newark, N. J., are the result of information recorded at federal weather monitoring facilities in those locations.

With the federal government shut down, however, the effect of a lack of government activity is being felt in forecasting and research.  Add to that a tropical storm on the way, and suddenly there’s a cause for concern.   Despite that, though, weather experts tell PIX11 News that the concern need not be great.

The normal temperature for Oct. 4 is about 68 degrees, so Friday’s high  temperature was a topic of conversation.

“It’s 84 degrees outside, you guys,” said a PIX11 fan in Midtown Friday, as she passed a large-screen temperature readout on a billboard on Seventh Avenue at 35th Street.

Another woman, who was mailing a letter at that intersection, commented about the heat.

“It’s absurd,” she said.  “It’s October!”

Before she walked off, she had a further reaction, as well, and it was directed at the source of much of the weather information we receive, the National Weather Service.  “It’s shut down,” she said to PIX11 News.  “The whole thing stinks.”

In addition to unusually high temperatures here, a named storm is about to impact the entire eastern U.S., and the government, which is tasked with helping to forecast and prepare for severe weather, is shut down.

In fact, the homepage for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, which oversees the National Weather Service, is a full screen stating that “Due to the Federal government shutdown, NOAA.gov and most associated web sites are unavailable.”

It was a development that was of little consequence to at least one person on  their lunch break in midtown, who spoke with PIX11 News.

“I think they’re wrong so many times,” he said, about the National Weather Service, “that it doesn’t matter if they’re there or not, to tell you the truth.”

He may be right about the lack of a need to panic, although for different reasons than weather experts say.

“The good news,” Michael Schlacter told PIX11 News, “is the government is prioritizing urgent, critical information that impacts life and property.”

Schlacter is the chief meteorologist at Weather 2000, a business that makes long term weather forecasts for weather-sensitive industries like energy companies and utilities.

He pointed out that clicking through on the NOAA website brings a user to a continuously updated National Weather Service homepage on which weather conditions for any location in the U.S. can be found.  Essential weather service is still very much active.

Also, it’s worth noting, particularly with Tropical Storm Karen approaching, some 78 percent of all FEMA staff were not furloughed in the government shutdown, after they were deemed “excepted” from temporary cutbacks because of the importance of their positions.  Even more employees are being brought back.

All of that doesn’t change the fact, however, that there is wacky weather nationwide right now.

“We have summer weather with a tropical storm,” said Schlacter, who also pointed out that the Northeast is seeing record high temperatures, including the first string of six days above 80 degrees ever recorded in Washington, D.C.  “And we have blizzard conditions in the Midwest,” Schlacter said, fascinated that it’s all happening at once.

He said that he, his company and other meteorologists were not suffering from not having full government weather reporting, since all important government weather research is proceeding.  However, even he acknowledged that having full government service would be helpful.

“It’s the longer term research,” Schlacter said, referring as an example to access to archived information on soil samples to see how weather has affected crops, “that are shut down for now.”