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Posted at 7:35 PM ET, 01/24/2008

NOAA's NWS Near Naming New NHC Noggin?

By Steve Scolnik

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."

By Steve Scolnik  | January 24, 2008; 7:35 PM ET
Categories:  Tropical Weather  
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Geez, I remember when all that was going on. Proenza ticking everyone off and they all turned on him. They mentioned that every 5 minutes on The Weather Channel for days. Who cares about the tornadoes wiping out entire states and massive floods/droughts, let's talk about who's running the NHC! LOL

Posted by: weatherdudeVA | January 24, 2008 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Is there an Alliteration Award available?

Posted by: ~sg | January 24, 2008 9:58 PM | Report abuse

I believe 7 is a new Capital Weather record, even if the last one was a stretch :).

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | January 24, 2008 11:14 PM | Report abuse

This was still a VERY TRAGIC controversy and is due primarily to the desire of the current GOP (and perhaps also, Democratic) mindset to cut necessary expenditures while "covering" for their wealthy clientele. It has always been my position that a primary function of Central Government is to help those who can't help themselves. This is the reason why FDR initiated the New Deal in order to combat the effects of Federal lassitude during the Hoover Administration while the Great Depression deepened (and eventually cost Herbert Hoover his job!) Unfortunately Ronald Reagan and his right-wing lackeys undid everything that the New Deal established!

What is the bearing relative to the NHC flap? Specifically we're still sitting around with NO REPLACEMENT for QuikSCAT!!! We're just plain lucky that the past two Atlantic hurricane seasons have been quieter than the "overactive" season of 2005, while this flap has been going on! All the while the Feds seem to be more concerned over the bottom line than they are over a potential reprise of Katrina, Rita, Wilma or Camille. (In addition, they WANT to cut off OUR Social Security, just when I and millions of other "baby boomers" stand poised to retire! Seems they just "can't afford" it any longer, while being ONLY TOO WILLING to "cover" for their wealthy cohorts who lost a ton of money promoting risky "derivatives" and subprime mortgage loans!!!)

Anyway, it seems that as we enter this year's Presidential contest, "politics as usual" prevails! Instead of inserting new ideas into the campaign, it appears that the prime Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama seem only too willing to get into a personal catfight relative to the "continuation" of the previous Clinton administration. Heck, we are even getting "old" time-worn racial issues injected into this campaign!!! The problem is that we need a major injection of NEW IDEAS, not a continuation of the "same old, same old" politics as usual! Only a pair of "brokered" conventions may give us any promise of emerging from this morass. Otherwise only a new, fresh third-party candidacy (Bloomberg, are you listening???) may be in order as the solution to this impasse.

The NHC flap isn't the only instance of this bottom-line related standoff over necessary investments. Just look at what's about to happen to the Dulles/Loudoun rail line! And what happened with regard to our crumbling infrastructure? That's right, a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis last summer!

Posted by: El Bombo | January 25, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

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