Weather Notes: We are reviewing the National Hurricane Centers report on Subtropical Storm Andrea and will post it shortly. In the meantime Storm Chaser Roger Hill captured video of 9 tornadoes in Kit Carson County Colorado. As soon as I get a video link I will post it.
Pressure builds for storm chief
The controversial director of the National Hurricane Center came under additional scrutiny as a federal team of experts conducted an unannounced inspection.
BY MARTIN MERZER
A five-member team from Washington, including a lawyer who specializes in personnel matters, conducted a snap inspection Monday of the National Hurricane Center in Miami-Dade to determine if it can fulfill its mission under current management.
The unannounced visit came in the wake of serial controversies stirred by Bill Proenza, the center's new director, who has been sharply critical of his superiors at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Meanwhile, for the first time, one of Proenza's hurricane forecasters expressed public concern about some of Proenza's actions since he took the job in January.
Lixion Avila, a lead forecaster and a center employee for more than 20 years, said he believes Proenza meant well but unintentionally has undermined public faith in hurricane forecasts.
Proenza has complained about budget shortfalls, what he called a multimillion-dollar ''bogus'' NOAA anniversary celebration and the imminent demise of a key satellite.
He has been careful to say that those issues herald future -- rather than current -- problems, but some people have not grasped the distinction, Avila said.
'I go to the Publix supermarket and they know me and they say, `What's going on at the hurricane center? You can't make a forecast anymore,' '' Avila said. ``I have to tell everybody that I can make a good forecast.
''I tell you this because I already told Bill this,'' Avila said. ``And I want it clear that he didn't do any of this out of malice.''
Several others at the hurricane center harbor similar concerns, though another contingent supports Proenza and worries that NOAA is preparing to oust him -- even as the hurricane season is under way.
Reached Monday night, Proenza confirmed the surprise inspection, but -- in a departure from his usual practice -- he said little else.
Asked if he believed his job was threatened by the NOAA inspection team and its mission, Proenza said:
``I await their finding and, hopefully, their support.''
The special ''assessment team'' is assigned to determine if the hurricane center can function with its current resources and ''management and organizational structure,'' according to an e-mail received by center employees Monday and obtained by The Miami Herald.
''I have become aware of concerns about [the hurricane center's] ability to meet its mission,'' NOAA head Conrad Lautenbacher Jr., who appointed the team, said in the e-mail.
``I want to ensure the Center's continued readiness for not only this season but future seasons.''
The team arrived at Proenza's door at 10:15 a.m., later met with much of his staff, and also interviewed hurricane forecasters at a separate location at Florida International University, according to several sources.
The inspectors are due back at the hurricane center today, and Avila, who was not in the office Monday, said he expected to be interviewed.
What will he say if asked about Proenza's future?
Avila: 'My answer to them will be, `You never asked me when you put him in, so don't ask me if he should be removed.' ''
Anson Franklin, NOAA's director of communications, confirmed late Monday that the team was in South Florida. He said its report is due in just three weeks.
Among those on the team: John Guenther, an attorney for the U.S. Commerce Department, which controls NOAA. Guenther has considerable experience in personnel matters, according to Commerce Department records.
''The team includes scientists with decades of experience and an attorney as well,'' Franklin said. ``It's always good to have an attorney.''
He declined to respond specifically to questions about Proenza's future.
''We're just trying to identify any issues that need attention,'' he said.
The developments come after months of controversy ignited by Proenza's public attacks on NOAA and the National Weather Service, which runs the Tropical Prediction Center, which runs the hurricane center.
He has been particularly critical of the agency's failure to prepare a replacement for a weather satellite that already is beyond its designed life span. The QuikScat satellite measures wind speeds over distant areas of the ocean.
Proenza and some experts say certain hurricane forecasts could be 16 percent less accurate without that data, though others say similar information might be gathered from other devices.
He was warned last month by the weather service's director that he needed to be more tactful within the bureaucracy and more measured in his public comments.