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Weather Service and Hurricane Center under fire from above

Today I was pointed to some discomforting news coming from Miami. It seems that NOAA (the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) is in the process of trying to exert control onto its daughter agency the National Weather Service (NWS) and subsequent daughter the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

After the success and publicity that the hurricane center gathered following Katrina, NOAA executives ordered the hurricane center to remove all NWS logos on their products and replace them with NOAA logos. Then director of the hurricane center, Max Mayfield, refused to do so and the new director, Bill Proenza, is continuing to stand his ground

Perhaps the most disturbing portion of this news is that NOAA is spending $4 million on a bicentential celebration at the same time that is has cut $700,000 from hurricane research and President Bush's proposed budget leaves no funding for hurricane research flights.

From the Miami Herald:

The new director of the National Hurricane Center escalated his criticism of superiors in the federal government Wednesday, charging they are squandering millions on counterproductive image-building campaigns while front-line forecasters wrestle with budget shortfalls.

Bill Proenza, who took the hurricane center post in January, said top officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are spending $4 million on a ''bogus'' 200-year NOAA anniversary celebration.

NHC director Bill Proenza

That celebration is part of a broader campaign to publicize NOAA and its leaders, Proenza and other critics said, while diminishing the identity of its best-known components, the National Weather Service and the hurricane center.

Meanwhile, Proenza said, NOAA has cut $700,000 from a crucial hurricane research program and allowed other important initiatives to go unfunded, but it wants to spend money to change the widely recognized center's name to the ``NOAA Hurricane Center.''

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Proenza and former hurricane center director Max Mayfield said, NOAA even ordered them to remove the National Weather Service logo from official tracking maps and retain only the NOAA logo. They refused.

''It's getting to the point where I cannot tolerate this,'' Proenza told The Miami Herald when asked about critical comments from emergency managers about NOAA's budget priorities and its public relations campaigns.

The statements from him and other high-ranking officials suggest that potentially disruptive battles are under way in the sprawling NOAA bureaucracy that Americans depend on for crucial information about hurricanes and other natural phenomena.


Proenza said the issue is of vital public interest because it touches on important funding issues. ''What's happening is scary,'' he said.

If the National Weather Service and similar operations lose their identities, he said, their funding will be absorbed and possibly diluted by NOAA and they will have to battle for every dollar.

NOAA's annual budget is around $4 billion, Franklin said.

''If NOAA achieves a strong presence in the eyes of the people who use its varied services, the agency will be more successful in budget matters,'' he said.

The hurricane center's annual budget is $6.3 million, and Proenza has said he needs a lot more.


Proenza, a 40-year veteran of the weather service, has a long reputation as a candid critic of NOAA.

Still, he shocked the bureaucracy last month when he told The Miami Herald -- during the National Hurricane Conference in New Orleans, his public debut as hurricane director -- that Congress and NOAA were bleeding forecasters of resources they need to protect Americans.

This week, the escalation of his criticism came -- at times -- while a public information officer from NOAA headquarters in Washington stood at Proenza's side.

Is Proenza, 62, risking the loss of his new job?

''I was told that NOAA doesn't want to muzzle its leaders,'' he said. ``And they don't expect me to lie.''

But he acknowledged that he needs to be careful.

''If I'm going to be effective in what I'm trying to do for this entire hurricane program,'' he said, ``I can't allow myself to be fired.''

- Read the full story -

What will this transition look like? NOAA has a well-hidden page showing the proposed changes to all of their website graphics. Below are the proposed new website banners for the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center. If you would like to leave feedback for NOAA and let them know how you feel, please visit their obscure page of the changes and let them hear your voice.

Posted by Bryan Woods | Permalink