Hurricane Center Weathers Own Storm The National Hurricane Center's new director says the federal agency that oversees it wasted millions of dollars on a publicity campaign, while cutting $700,000 from hurricane research.
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Hurricane Center Weathers Own Storm

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Hurricane Center Weathers Own Storm

Hurricane Center Weathers Own Storm

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's a weather forecast for you. The upcoming hurricane season is likely to be busy, busier than usual. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's head, Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, release the agency's 2007 hurricane outlook in a news conference yesterday.

Vice Admiral CONRAD LAUTENBACHER (Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration): We are forecasting 13 to 17 named storms, of which 7 to 10 will become hurricanes. And three to five of those hurricanes will be in the major category, or Category 3 strength and higher.

INSKEEP: Now while the government's forecasters have been preparing for the upcoming season, a different type of storm has broken out. It's one that involves NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the director of the National Hurricane Center.

From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: Bill Proenza only took over as head of the National Hurricane Center in January, but he quickly made headlines. In April, at a conference in New Orleans, he blasted the Hurricane Center's parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, for not making plans to replace an aging satellite considered vital in tracking hurricanes.

Mr. BILL PROENZA (Director, National Hurricane Center): I was concerned that there was nothing on the books and nothing in the process of our budget process that showed that indeed NOAA was planning for what I would consider the next generation replacement for QuikSCAT, especially since it's in on borrowed time as we speak.

ALLEN: Although he was new to the job, Proenza is a National Weather Service lifer. He began work there in 1963, when he was still in college. He's well known and well respected in the Weather Service and in Washington. His comments got the attention of key members of Congress and NOAA officials, who now tell him that replacing the QuikSCAT satellite will be at the top of their budget priority in the upcoming year.

That's not the only battle Bill Proenza has been waging. He's also complained openly about a budget shortfall that has hurt a research project, the Joint Hurricane Testbed, at a time when NOAA was planning on spending $1.5 million on a 200th anniversary commemoration.

Yesterday, the head of NOAA, Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, was asked about Proenza's concerns.

Vice Adm. LAUTENBACHER: We have to remember Mr. Proenza just took over as the head of the Hurricane Center and he is known for being a very strong and forceful advocate for his programs. And that's one reason why we love him.

ALLEN: He continued.

Vice Adm. LAUTENBACHER: I've asked the Weather Service to ensure that he has what he needs to provide everything that we need to do what's responsible during this hurricane season.

ALLEN: The battles Bill Proenza is waging on behalf of the National Weather Service are about budgets, but also about identity. The National Weather Service was founded in 1870, 100 years before NOAA existed. It's a branch of the government with excellent name recognition, public approval and pride.

In recent months, NOAA has begun working to attach its brand, rather than that of the National Weather Service, to the Hurricane Center. At yesterday's announcement, for example, press materials identified Proenza as the director of the NOAA National Hurricane Center.

Mr. PROENZA: It isn't that. In fact, we have never been authorized to eliminate divisional Weather Service from our organizational name.

ALLEN: NOAA officials say they have no intention of replacing the National Weather Service name and logo, and that much of this is a, quote, "intramural debate." To outsiders, the dispute might seem frivolous. Proenza says it's important, though, in part because of budgets, so that the National Weather Service can trade on its name recognition and prestige in seeking funding. And also, Proenza says, when a hurricane warning comes from the National Weather Service, experience shows people take it seriously.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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