NOAA's NWS Near Naming New NHC Noggin?
The Orlando Sentinel reported today: "National Weather Service veteran Bill Read likely to be next hurricane chief." This promises to be the final chapter in one of the more unusual bureaucratic dramas in recent history. If named as the permanent director of the National Hurricane Center near Miami, Read would replace Bill Proenza, who took over the position at the beginning of last year, replacing the retiring Max Mayfield, but was ousted when havoc broke out at the center during the 2007 hurricane season.
Proenza, a 30+ year veteran of the National Weather Service, had been the Director of the Southern Region of the NWS since 1998. As part of his mission to assure that the NHC had the resources necessary to provide the best possible tropical cyclone forecasts, Proenza began publicly pointing out that the QuikSCAT satellite was rapidly reaching the end of its useful life and that no immediate replacement was available. One of these presentations by Proenza was at a well-attended April meeting of the DC chapter of the American Meteorological Society at the new Rockville library. QuikSCAT, originally launched in 1999, had been found to be extremely useful in forecasting hurricane intensity by providing detailed information on winds at the ocean surface.
The fact that a career bureaucrat would speak out publicly on a budget issue is unusual enough, but the affair took a more bizarre turn early in the 2007 hurricane season, when a large number of NHC employees staged the "'Cane Mutiny." They released a public statement expressing lack of confidence in Proenza's leadership and calling for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent agency of the NHC, to remove him from his position. The agency responded by sending a special investigative team to check out the situation. This resulted in Proenza being placed on administrative leave and ordered "not to communicate with the staff of the hurricane center in any way," according to an article in the Miami Herald (no longer online). In an interview with the Herald in July, Proenza refused to apologize for his criticism of NOAA, although he reaffirmed his confidence in the ability of the NHC to carry out its forecasting mission effectively.
The "Hurricane Center Havoc," as CWG's Dan Stillman called it at the time, resulted in a Congressional inquiry, although Republicans on the House Science & Technology Committee attempted to prevent Proenza from testifying. Following the hearing, Proenza was reassigned to his position as head of the Southern Region. Interesting commentaries on the affair are still available at the WaPo's Federal Diary, as well as Bob King's PaBePo Eye of the Storm blog and the HoChro's SciGuy.
Palm Beach Post opinion columnist Frank Cerabino weighed in with his suggestions for improving NHC morale, including:
"8 - 9 a.m. - Bagels, cage-free omelets made to order and fresh brewed Colombian coffee flown in daily on a hurricane hunter plane.
9 - 9:30 a.m. - Sharing time. Staffers swap stories about children, or discuss highlights of TV shows from the previous evening."
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