[StBernard] Hurricane chief's remarks stir up tempest at NOAA

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Jun 20 23:08:50 EDT 2007

Hurricane chief's remarks stir up tempest at NOAA
By Eliot Kleinberg

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The new national hurricane center director wants his bosses to spend less
money on birthday parties and more on satellites that could help emergency
managers decide when to tell people to flee approaching storms.

The bosses want Bill Proenza to spend less time grandstanding and more time
in front of the radar screen.

But U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said he'll be asking whether Proenza is
being punished for his candor and admonished Proenza's supervisors that
"shooting the messenger is not an acceptable response." And U.S. Sen. Mel
Martinez, R-Fla., said it's about saving lives.

This squabble is not playing out at the best time.

Two years after a string of storms in 24 months smashed much of Florida and
the Gulf Coast, killing hundreds, and a year after a deceptively calm season
that might have lulled those with short memories, the 2007 season is off and
running, with two names already scratched off the list. And it's only

On April 5, Proenza, who replaced retiring Max Mayfield, told the National
Hurricane Conference that federal hurricane research is several hundred
million dollars short of what it should be.

He also said the QuikSCAT satellite, which provides critical wind
measurements, was designed to last as long as five years but is now 8 years
old and could fail at any minute, while the government debates whether to
replace it.

A failure of QuikSCAT, Proenza said, would reduce by 16 percent the accuracy
of the hurricane center's three-day forecast.

Emergency managers have said they need as much as 21/2 days to get everyone
who wants to leave out of a region and that every mile of coastline
needlessly evacuated in the name of caution costs as much as $1 million in
emergency costs and economic losses.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the umbrella agency for
both the hurricane center and the National Weather Service, says QuikSCAT is
part of a large scheme that includes other satellites, including European
ones, as well as hurricane planes, buoys, computer models and extra staff.

On top of that, QuickSCAT was a NASA satellite that was experimental and was
only later used by forecasters.

The Hurricane Research Division, also part of NOAA, is working to develop
the satellite that would replace QuickSCAT.

"NOAA has so many priorities," Director Frank Marks said. "Pick one.
Satellites? They're up there. I wouldn't say it's the highest priority, but
I don't know what the highest priority is. I don't choose these things."

In May, Proenza told the Florida Governor's Hurricane Conference in Fort
Lauderdale that NOAA shouldn't be spending as much as $4 million on its
200th anniversary at a time when it had cut $700,000 from hurricane

A NOAA spokesman said the agency was spending only $1.5 million over two

On Thursday, National Weather Service acting director Mary Glackin wrote
Proenza, saying, "recent statements may have caused some unnecessary
confusion about NOAA's ability to accurately predict tropical storms." She
said she wanted to avoid having to spend "a disproportionate amount of time
to correct any confusion; causing undue concern and the misunderstanding
among your staff, and taking valuable time away from your public role."

The next day, Glackin visited Proenza and forecasters at the hurricane
center and adjoining National Weather Service office at their compound west
of Miami.

Then, according to TheMiami Herald, Proenza distributed the letter to his
staff and reporters, saying his employers were trying to muzzle him or push
him out.

"I'm not going to be silenced," he said.

Proenza was in Puerto Rico on Tuesday and couldn't be reached, his office

Glackin was unavailable Tuesday, her office said.

Craig Fugate, Florida's director of emergency management, said he's been
arguing since long before Proenza took over that the federal government
needs to focus more on hurricane forecasting.

"Attempting to muzzle Bill Proenza is a futile effort. It's like poking him
with a stick," Fugate said. "Sometimes people get frustrated and say, 'Hey,
it ain't working. I'm going to use my bully pulpit and try to get my point
across.' I think that's what Bill did."

On Monday, Nelson wrote Carlos Gutierrez, secretary of the NOAA's parent,
the Department of Commerce, saying, "clearly there are parties within NOAA
who don't appreciate having their shortcomings identified to the public and

He said Proenza was obligated: "Failure to have done so would have been a
dereliction of duty from our most senior hurricane forecaster.''

Nelson also said he intends to raise the issue at a July hearing of the
Senate Commerce Committee hearing on QuickSCAT.

Nelson and Martinez introduced a bill this year to increase spending on
hurricane research.

"I appreciate Bill's candor and dedication to the primary mission of the
Hurricane Center," Martinez said Tuesday. "At the end of the day, it's about
preserving life, and we need to ensure the resources are there to meet that

U.S. Reps. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, and Charlie Melancon, D-La., have filed
a bill for $375 million to replace QuickSCAT.

Klein said that he recently visited with forecasters at the hurricane center
"who validated exactly what Mr. Proenza is saying" about NOAA's priorities.

Find this article at:

See the documents

. June 14 letter to Proenza from acting director of the National Weather

. June 18 letter to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce from
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson

. Undated letter to colleagues from U.S. Reps. Ron Klein, D-Fla., and
Charlie Melancon, D-La., about the QuickSCAT satellite

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