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Planet Earth

National Hurricane Center Saga Shifts to Congress

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJuly 19, 2007 2:25 AM
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Congress is now wading into Episode II of Hurricane Wars. Tomorrow morning the House Committee on Science and Technology will hold a hearing entitled "Tracking the Storm at the National Hurricane Center." I was just emailed the witness list, which I've posted after the jump. The most obvious thing I've noticed about the hearing list is that while ousted center director Bill Proenza will be testifying, no one currently working at the National Hurricane Center itself is on the roster. I don't know that it's appropriate to be dragging the forecasters before Congress in the middle of the season. But still, this perspective is glaringly absent as of now. That said, I'm still glad Congress is holding this hearing (though I myself will be traveling back to DC during much of it). At my book talks over the past week I've been repeatedly asked to comment on the hurricane center controversy and, after liming the scientific dispute between Proenza and his forecasters (over the importance of QuikScat data to the accuracy of storm track forecasting; for details read here), have fully admitted that I see a large disconnect between this divide and the blowup itself. In other words, yeah, Proenza and his forecasters disagreed on this technical issue--but was that the only factor leading nearly half the staff to call for new leadership at the center? I find that pretty hard to believe. There simply has to be more to this story....

UPDATE: A new report from the Houston Chronicle's Eric Berger contains much previously untold information about behind-the-scenes friction at the hurricane center. Click here to read it.... Witness List:

Panel I Mr. Bill Proenza, Director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) - Mr. Proenza has been invited to discuss his service as Director of the Tropical Prediction Center and his experiences during the recent events that led the NOAA Administrator to place him on leave and directed him not to have any contact with the Center or its employees. Panel II Dr. Robert M. Atlas, Director, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory - Dr. Atlas' laboratory is part of the Hurricane Research Division, which works with the Tropical Prediction Center to improve tools and techniques in hurricane forecasting. He has been asked to focus on the use of QuikSCAT data in the forecasting process. Mr. Don McKinnon, Director, Jones County Emergency Management Agency - Mr. McKinnon will testify regarding the types of services emergency management offices require from the National Weather Service (NWS). Mr. McKinnon dealt extensively with Mr. Proenza during his service as Director of the Weather Service Southern Region Office. Mr. Robie Robinson, Director, Dallas County Office of Security and Emergency Management - Mr. Robinson is testifying on behalf of the Emergency Management Association of Texas regarding the service provided to the emergency management community in Texas by the National Weather Service (NWS) through the Southern Region Office during the period of Mr. Proenza's tenure as its Director. Panel III Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator - Admiral Lautenbacher has been asked to describe how he came to the decision to dispatch an "operational assessment team" to the Tropical Prediction Center and, as a result of a preliminary report from that team, to place Mr. Proenza on leave. The team was directed to submit a report on the situation at the Center on Friday. Panel IV Additional Witness TBA

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