Ousted hurricane center chief to return to previous post

The recently ousted head of the National Hurricane Center will return to his previous job as director of the National Weather Service's southern region, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday.

Bill Proenza was removed as director of the National Hurricane Center on July 9, following weeks of controversy surrounding his comments about the center's satellite system. Proenza called the eight-year-old QuickSCAT system, meant to monitor the climate and assist in ocean research and weather prediction, outdated. His comments drew criticism from higher-ups at NOAA and colleagues, who questioned his leadership skills.

While Proenza asked to be reinstated at the National Hurricane Center or the Weather Service's southern region, it was initially expected that he would be assigned to be training chief for the Silver Spring, Md.-based Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services.

Following a joint hearing of two House Science and Technology subcommittees on July 19 to determine if Proenza had inappropriately discussed the need for system upgrades with the media, key Democratic lawmakers advocated reinstating him as southern regional director of NWS.

Reps. Nick Lampson, D-Texas, and Brad Miller, D-N.C., chairmen of the subcommittees on Energy and the Environment and on Investigations and Oversight, and Bart Gordon, chairman of the full committee, issued a statement Monday applauding NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher for returning Proenza to the regional directorship.

"We are pleased that NOAA is sending Mr. Proenza back to the southern region," the representatives said. "His experience and talents were too important for the weather service to lose, and he was widely admired for his work in the region."

The southern region covers a quarter of the continental United States and is responsible for areas particularly vulnerable to hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, fire and flash floods.

The representatives said it would have been "grossly unfair" to give Proenza a significant demotion, given that the investigation into his dismissal is still ongoing. The subcommittees are continuing to look into his removal, and the chairmen vowed to watch the search for a new hurricane center director carefully.

Proenza served as the director of the southern region for nine years prior to his six-month stint as director of the hurricane center.

"Bill Proenza has a record of outstanding performance while director of the National Weather Service's southern region," Lautenbacher said. "Having him return to the region is the best way for NOAA to continue to benefit from his skills."

Proenza said he was "gratified" to be returning to the career he knows and loves.

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