Hurricane Center Chief Criticized for Aging Satellite Warning

June 18, 2007

The director of the National Hurricane Center, who has been outspoken in warning about an aging satellite used for hurricane forecasting, was chastised by a superior for his comments.

Bill Proenza has been talking about the QuikScat satellite since taking office in January. The satellite was launched in 1999 and designed to last two to three years. It is now showing signs of its age.

Certain hurricane forecasts could be up to 16 percent less accurate if it fails, Proenza has said. That could lead to wider areas placed under hurricane watches and warnings. A satellite with technology meant to replace QuikScat would not fly until 2016, seven years later than planned, The Associated Press reported last week.

Last Friday, Proenza was given a three-page letter from the acting head of the Weather Service, Mary Glackin. Proenza’s recent statements “may have caused some unnecessary confusion about NOAA’s ability to accurately predict tropical storms,” Glackin wrote.

Glackin, who visited Proenza’s office at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said that talking with other weather service managers would have given Proenza “accurate factual data.”

Proenza said Friday that he did not believe that his comments caused confusion and that he had properly talked with his superiors. The letter is an attempt to quiet his comments on the satellite, he said. He said another superior had previously warned him to stop making comments about QuikScat.

“I’m not going to do anything different,” he said after getting the letter.

Proenza shared the letter with his staff, which led to its public release. The letter also included reprimands for two more procedural items, including allegedly improperly authorizing promotions.

Glackin was named acting head of the weather service in May after its previous director announced his retirement. She said in a telephone interview that the letter was less about what happened in the past than about her expectations going forward.

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