National Hurricane Center Names New Director

By | January 28, 2008

The National Hurricane Center’s new chief said he would deal with problems behind the scenes and work to boost morale among staffers who helped oust the former director for his outspokenness.

Bill Read, 58, had been the center’s interim deputy director since August, when director Bill Proenza was removed. Proenza’s staff urged federal officials to dismiss him, saying he exaggerated problems with a satellite and undermined forecasters.

Read indicated he would take a far different approach than his predecessor, whom he’s known for two decades. The new director said Proenza was passionate about his work, but noted his disparate approach.

“We have very different personalities,” Read said.

In accepting the job from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Read praised the skills of the center’s rank-and-file, saying each of them was a better hurricane forecaster than him. He refused to complain about his budget, saying he’d work with what he’s given. And he said if he did encounter problems, he’d likely raise the issue behind closed doors.

As for QuikScat, the aging weather satellite that Proenza loudly and repeatedly called for replacing, Read was far more laid back. He said higher-ups have acknowledged the satellite needs to be addressed and that plans were being made. But he appeared detached from the subject, referring a question on its replacement elsewhere.

“You won’t find a meteorologist out there who doesn’t want more data, myself included,” he said. “I think as far as the QuikScat goes, the people in the satellite business not just NOAA but also in NASA are working now on developing exactly what it is we need and what we want.”

Read said he had not been instructed not to speak about QuikScat or any other subject.

Proenza replaced Mayfield last January, but by July, he was placed on leave after almost half his staff said his comments about QuikScat undermined public confidence in center forecasts. A five-member Commerce Department team investigated and determined Proenza should not be allowed to return, saying a negative atmosphere and lack of trust between Proenza and his staff jeopardized the hurricane center’s ability to function.

Proenza maintained he had been ousted because of his public complaints that the satellite was not being replaced quickly enough and storm forecasts would suffer if it failed. He was eventually reassigned to his previous job in Fort Worth, Texas, as director of the weather service’s southern region.

Ed Rappaport, who filled Proenza’s role since his departure, did not apply for the permanent job, NOAA said, and will return to his post as deputy director.

Read said he had much work to do on hurricane preparedness and public apathy toward storm warnings. He also acknowledged meteorologists had not yet “cracked the code” on forecasting storms’ rapid intensification or weakening. He said he would work fast to improve morale and teamwork.

Born in South Weymouth, Mass., Read described himself as a C+ high school student who luckily landed a spot in Texas A&M’s meteorology program. He was a meteorologist in the Navy, serving aboard a hurricane hunter aircraft before joining the National Weather Service in 1977. He ran the weather service’s Houston-Galveston office before moving to Miami last year.

The hurricane center in Miami monitors the movement and strength of tropical weather systems, and issues storm watches and warnings for the U.S. and surrounding areas. The six-month Atlantic hurricane season officially starts June 1.

Associated Press writer Jennifer Kay contributed to this report.

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