NHC director bullied for making sensible demands

Bill Proenza, the man who replaced the legendary Max Mayfield as director of the National Hurricane Center when Mayfield retired in January, may not last long. It seems he’s committed the one sin that is simply not tolerated in the Bush Administration: disloyalty.

The new director of the National Hurricane Center, an outspoken critic of his superiors since he took over in January, charged Friday night that they are trying to muzzle him and could be setting him up for dismissal.

Bill Proenza said the acting director of the National Weather Service, Mary Glackin, visited his office in West Miami-Dade Friday and handed him a three-page letter of reprimand.

”I don’t think they can pull the rug out from under me right now,” Proenza said, “but there is no question they are trying to muzzle me.”

In recent interviews with The Miami Herald and other media, Proenza has strongly criticized leaders of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for spending millions of dollars on a public-relations campaign when hurricane forecasters deal with budget shortfalls.

One of his main concerns has been the imminent demise of a key weather satellite called QuikScat, launched in 1999 and long past its designed lifetime.

No replacement currently is in development and the loss of QuikScat could diminish the accuracy of some hurricane forecasts by up to 16 percent, Proenza and other experts have said. …

It was not the first time he has been disciplined since taking over the center.

Proenza said that on April 13, he was told by Louis Uccellini, a high-ranking weather service official: “You better stop these QuikScat [and other] complaints. I’m warning you. You have NOAA, DOC [the U.S. Department of Commerce] and the White House pissed off.”

You know, if the White House valued competence as much as it values lockstep loyalty — if they got more “pissed off” by the failings of cronies like “Heckuva Job” Brownie than by the honest opinions of men like Proenza — things would have gone a whole lot more smoothly over the past few years in this country (not to mention Iraq).

Luckily, the buffoons running the country have inadvertently stumbled upon a worthy public servant in Proenza. His response to their attempted muzzling of his legitimate concerns? “I’m not going to be silenced. I know my responsibilities and I know what I have to do.”

Capital Weather is right: Bully for Bill!

Hurricane forecasts are a matter of life or death. NOAA should work to satisfy the center’s requests or else publicly explain why money that could be going towards hurricane research is instead going to a NOAA re-branding campaign…

They can continue to try to silence Proenza, but he doesn’t seem to be in any mood to shut up. And good for him, considering that in advocating for his employees he’s really advocating for the millions of residents of coastal areas at risk in what is expected to be an above average hurricane season with heightened risk of a hurricane striking the U.S. mainland. …

NWS and NOAA leadership needs to navigate to the eye of this storm (they do it for real very well) and publicly work with Proenza to get him and his employees the resources they need to protect the American people. That includes pushing for a faster deployment of QuickScat satellite and for more hurricane research money to unlock the secrets of what determines hurricane track and intensity.

The hurricane season started on June 1. There is no more time to waste with this nonsense.


(Hat tip: Margie Kieper.)

15 Responses to “NHC director bullied for making sensible demands”

  1. Brownie says:

    I did a heckuva job. Don`t drink the haterade.

  2. Ironman says:

    the loss of the satellite would be rather problematic for the NE coast since the rapid forward speed of hurricanes at higher latitudes means we have little warning time as is

  3. Joe Loy says:

    Right on, Bill Proenza. Don’t let the bastards Blow you down.

  4. Teresa says:

    “…launched in 1999 and long past its designed lifetime.”

    I’m not at all conversant with satellites, but if you’re going to spend the millions of dollars to create and launch the thing – shouldn’t its useful life be at least 10 years? Unless the date is a typo and they really meant 1989 (or even 1979) – I’m trying to figure out how a satellite launched in 1999 could be out of date already.

    I realize that the big issue of the post is about Proenza telling it like it is and getting into trouble for doing this, but I did wonder on reading this about the satellite itself.

  5. Briandot says:

    I’m not sure of the particulars of this bird, but some satellites have lifetimes of weeks or months. It depends on what the mission is.

    Also, rocket fuel is heavy. If it has to change orbit often then it’s going to become useless in a fairly short time.

  6. Crusty says:

    Isn’t it time for some other country to put a weather bird up there?

    I took the effort to Google ‘QuikScat’ and found that this is a polar-orbiting satellite that images weather for the WHOLE WORLD twice a day.

    It’s not like, oh, say, FRANCE, or maybe CANADA, or GERMANY, or maybe VLADIMIR PUTIN doesn’t have an interest in the data, too.

  7. Aaron says:

    shouldn’t its useful life be at least 10 years?

    On the contrary. When you launch a device that has lots of moving parts (as most climate and meteorology satellites do) into orbit without any possibility of maintenance or repair (unless you’re Hubble) 5 years is a pretty reasonable designed lifetime.

    That said, we are talking about designed lifetime here, which is the length of time for which you feel confident that your satellite will continue to function. This doesn’t stop you from hoping it will function much longer, and many do just that.

  8. […] “disloyalty.” Democrats aren’t the only ones who politicize weather. On Sunday Brendan sounded off. I agree, but NASA would rather spend money “rebranding.” Maybe the answer is branding […]

  9. pegleg says:

    Are you sure this isn’t a case of Quikscam? Another federal agency playing politics for the Demons when they are pertty certain that (1) this satellite WON’T fail and (2) we could buy a replacement/launch a replacement pretty quickly if we needed to.
    Although my background is in climatology, I am getting tired of all the “sky-is-falling” scenarios. These guys are like clockwork–every June another potential disaster unless they get more money.

  10. Orion says:

    In a Perfect World we’d have money budgeted to replace not just QuikScat but half the
    satellites in orbit right now. We’d also have a follow-on to the Space Shuttle already
    in production and bw working on a return to the Moon by 2010, not 2025. NASA in terms
    of congressional spending priorities is close to the bottom of the barrel and every time
    some yahoo in Congress needs a few dollars to earmark for a pet project they come looking
    there FIRST.

    QuikScat was designed to work for 3 years but will most likely last, in degraded form,
    until around 2010. If/When it fails we’ll replace it in about 18 months: Congress just
    isn’t going to budget the money to put a spare on the shelf. There are too many other
    fires to stamp out.

  11. Brendan Loy says:

    If/When it fails we’ll replace it in about 18 months: Congress just isn’t going to budget the money to put a spare on the shelf. There are too many other fires to stamp out.

    Realistically, you’re probably right. But shouldn’t we demand more from our elected leaders? It’s their job to be proactive, not merely reactive. I don’t think the answer is to become cynical and just expect subpar performance. We should demand that they do their jobs well, even if we don’t expect it.

  12. Aaron says:

    In a Perfect World we’d have money budgeted to replace not just QuikScat but half the satellites in orbit right now. We’d also have a follow-on to the Space Shuttle already in production and bw working on a return to the Moon by 2010, not 2025.

    Completely agree with the first part. Completely disagree with second. Manned space flight is terribly expensive, and (for the near future anyway) serves little usefull purpose.

  13. Andrew says:

    Greetings from Colombia!

    BL, I have to take issue with your expectation that our leaders should be “proactive, not merely reactive”. In general, that’d be a great thing, but it is the very nature of year-to-year budgeting that causes Congress to be so reactive. A forward-looking Congress would have begun the new tanker program years ago, and would now make the decision to fund another 40 C-17s instead of waiting a few years before restarting production — a decision that would save tens of millions in mothball and startup costs. When you look at programs like the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-22, and Future Combat Systems, and you hear the complaints about huge cost growth, inevitably the root causes are constant engineering changes driven by the government during development, and the year-to-year funding constraints that cause repeated replanning and higher costs.

    Bottom line: You’ll get a Quiksat replacement bird on order — as soon as the current one is ready to fall out of the sky. It’s reactive and creates far more risk, but this is how it’ll always be — no matter which party is in control.

  14. Ted Hammond says:

    I don’t know whjat effect the loss will have onb the forecasting capabilities, but I expect that Bill knows, as I have heard, that NOAA is trying to absorb the NHC, saying that it wqill make for a “for efficient” organization. More governmental castle builders.

  15. […] used to track hurricanes could fail at any moment. These comments were looked as being “disloyal” to the current administration and NOAA, and they told Proenza “to cease from […]