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Transcript of the NHC press conference; QuikSCAT science

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 8:27 PM GMT on July 06, 2007

The National Hurricane Center political controversy continues today. In an Associated Press story released this morning, Senior Hurricane Specialist James Franklin of the National Hurricane Center commented on Bill Proenza's QuikSCAT claims, saying:

"He has been very loudly saying if it failed our forecasts for landfalling storms would be degraded, that warning areas would need to be expanded. None of that is the case, and he knows that we feel that way. The science is not there to back up the claims that he's making."

This was the same case I made in my blog yesterday. However, in comments published in the Miami Herald today, Dr. Bob Atlas, a QuikSCAT scientist who runs NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory on Virginia Key, rose to defend Proenza. To quote from the Herald:

He said the report challenged by Masters, even if not yet published, appears to be a "rigorous study" that provides the "most comprehensive study of QuikSCAT data related to hurricane predictions."

Atlas said nothing he has heard Proenza say about QuikSCAT has made him wince, though Atlas added that NOAA is developing ways to mitigate the loss of QuikSCAT data.

In addition, he said, Proenza's estimates of 16 percent and 10 percent have been misunderstood: They apply to the accuracy of one of many computerized forecast models rather than actual, end-result predictions by hurricane forecasters.

"Bill's worked very hard and very well to position the hurricane center to interact well with researchers," Atlas said.

Dr. Atlas was mis-quoted by Time Magazine, who printed this:

Bob Atlas, director of NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, insist that Proenza's concerns "are very well founded. QuickScat is the most valuable forecasting tool." Atlas says he applauds Proenza's outspokenness, predicting it will "accelerate the effort to replace QuickScat with an even better scatterometer satellite."

I talked with Dr. Atlas this morning, and what he actually said is that "NCEP's Ocean Prediction Center (OPC) have referred to QuikSCAT as the most valuable tool they have." OPC issues the high seas marine forecasts and warnings for the North Atlantic and North Pacific. Dr. Atlas did not say QuickSCAT is the most valuable forecasting tool for hurricane forecasting which it is not. Dr. Atlas and I both agree on what the science says about QuikSCAT. I respect his support for Proenza, and hope that Proenza's superiors in Washington take into account all the facts in the case. I did my best to present what I know of the science in my blog yesterday. No one knows the full story of what's going on at NHC, but this morning's press conference, done by staff members at NHC who oppose Proenza, will help clarify things. A transcript was sent to me by WTVJ, the NBC Station in Miami.

Transcript of this morning's press conference

Senior Hurricane Specialist James Franklin
We have been a family here, we are a small group of about 50 people. When things are really happening, we've got a Katrina out there or a Rita type of storms, everybody needs to stop what they're doing and pull together and make sure our message gets out and that we're doing the best job that we can to make the best forecast. We've got a lot of people pulling together to do that. That takes a certain amount of teamwork and appreciation of sense of family and he's destroying that, he's destroying that.

He's divided the staff, and it's hard to know how we're going to be able to come together with him here. One thing that happened yesterday when the staff met, and talked about these issues and a lot of people learned for the first time about some of the issues going on yesterday, and that brought a lot of the staff together. You saw a number of people speaking out both in terms of 3 to 23 yesterday. We found out what was really going on here. and I think you're going to see more later on.

I was very very gratified, we had a wonderful meeting with staff, including those who have been prior supporters of Bill. And we're learning a lot of things for the very first time. There we're a number of people who agreed with us, didn't like the idea of going to the press, but felt he needed to go, there are a fair number of people who didn't sign the letter for that reason. They wanted to keep it in house, and I certainly understand that. About 70-percent of the people who were in the discussion yesterday, put their names on the paper.

I think we've learned an awful lot about Bill here, during the last six months that maybe we didn't know.

We would have liked to have seen Bill realize that he didn't have the support of the staff and step down. That's not going to happen apparently. The process, the Dept. of Commerce process, I imagine needs to go forward. I think it would be nice if they could take him out of the office while that process goes on, those are not decisions we can make.

Lixion Avila-Senior Hurricane Forecaster
-Been here longer than any other forecaster
-Worked for 5-hurricane directors

I was Bill's stronger supporter, I went with him to the Caribbean with the hurricane hunter plane. To develop the hurricane hunter plan, like I did with all the directors. And I'm very upset (loud truck drives by) that he's been misrepresenting the views of the National Hurricane Center, and the hurricane plan. That plan was developed by the previous five hurricane directors, it's a jewel, it's the best in the world and it's been something that Neil Frank, Bob Sheets and Jerry Jarrel and developed for 20-years in six months he wants to destroy that plan.

For example he, I'm a scientist not a manager, and I don't know anything about management, but I can tell you that he came to my office telling me that he wants my advice, that he can not work here if he doesn't hear my advice.. very helpful with the previous directors, and he asked me, and I said the first thing you need to do is quit talking about that QuikSCAT and tell him that is out of line, will help all the problems. And he says he will do that, instead he goes back to the media, and you don't publish that you only publish the good things he said.

He said that we don't want to work with him, because he brings many good ideas, and we don't want to do that. I want you to know that he has not made a hurricane forecast since 1964.

That satellite, I gave that example to many people here. There are many things more important than that satellite. Of course I want that someone to have that satellite. The example I gave everybody is like having a BMW with leather seats. If you don't have leather seats that BMW is going to ruin, and we are going to make a very damn good forecast this year, with Bill or without Bill, and I think. I'm being very emotional, because I was his strongest supporter and I feel betrayed.

I was the last forecaster to join the group. They were smarter than me, I was giving him one more chance. Two day's ago when he came to my office and said please, what should I do to solve this problem? And I was very naive and I told him you need to stop fighting, pretending you're David against Goliath, and all those things with NOAA. The public thinks you're a hero, but you're not. You just need to develop your time and saving the hurricane program that your predecessor developed so nicely, this castle that has been done here. and he went back and said he was going to do that, he went to the media and said the opposite, and that's the end, thank you.

James Franklin
I want to say something about the QuikSCAT issue because, because that's important. The QuikSCAT satellite, is important to us, it does a lot of good things for us. We want a next generation advanced instrument, however there are a lot of things that current instrument cannot do, and by misrepresenting the case for that satellite, he has made it seem so urgent and so important. That what we're afraid of, that we'll get a quick fix, a copy of the kind of thing with existing technology. And within a couple of years we'll be in exactly the same position same situation. QuikSCAT is not a tool to help us improve track forecasts, that's how it's been misrepresented. Bill waves this NOAA report that some of my colleagues worked on and said look this is it. That report did not address track forecast accuracy, that is another one of the misrepresentations.

QuikSCAT is important to help us understand the size of the wind field, the strength, the current instrument has a lot of trouble with rain, a lot of rain in tropical cyclones. We need to move forward if we take the time develop the technology further and in a few more years get at the technology that really helps us get at the intensity problem, that's where our forecast problem really is. We've made great strides with track, as you know we're having a lot more problems with intensity, and doing the QuikSCAT problem correctly, taking our time, developing new technology is one of the tools that we need to help solve the intensity problem. But because of the way it's been portrayed we're afraid that there's going to be a quick fix that's not going to address the track problem, and it doesn't address the track problem and it isn't going to end up helping us with what the forecasters really know will help us.

We've see members of the Congress talking about how the information from the recognizance aircraft are inferior to QuikSCAT, we're afraid that somebody might get it in their heads to fund a stopgap QuikSCAT to take funds from recon aircraft. There is no comparison, there is not a forecaster here who believes QuikSCAT is more important than recon aircraft or other tools we have. But because this issue has been misreported we're afraid we might lose what we have.

We've got forecasters still back at there desks doing their jobs and they'll continue doing that. But there's a lot of people losing sleep over this, and as we get into august September, October, I don't think you want a bunch of tired sick, forecasters working the forecast desk. I think it takes a full effort. It's not just about doing our jobs, we need to go over and beyond when those storms are coming, and that's becoming harder to do.

I think when things get busy, it's going to be harder for us to work effectively with the situation we have here.

Vivian Jorge, Administrative Officer
As far as myself in the administration, since Bill got here, is the turmoil in the administration, because in my sense, bill(sat breakup) likes controversy. And I myself have been asked to do things that I know are not procedure but have been asked to do because that's the way he wants things done, and I've worked at hurricane center since 1985.

Unfortunately I think a director needs to unite his staff and he needs to be a calming person. It doesn't need to be a no new ideas. All the directors have different ideas.. from Neil on down to Max, they were different, they were not the same, their management styles were not the same, but they united the staff, the listened to the staff, especially the folks who have been here for so many years. .. and I think in the case of bill he doesn't feel that's necessary, he always feels he knows best. And that again in our case, there's never been so many closed doors, so much intrigue at the hurricane center as now and that's really unfortunate. I can't tell you how proud I am to work here.

--End of Press Conference

QuikSCAT science
Enough of politics, let's talk science! I've communicated several times over the past few weeks with Dr. Paul Chang, a NOAA QuikSCAT scientist whose QuikSCAT web page I've linked to hundreds of times in my blogs over the past two years. He did not want to comment on the politics of the QuikSCAT issue (smart man!), but did ask me print these comments:

The need for an operational ocean surface vector wind satellite system like QuikSCAT (or actually better) goes much further than the hurricane issue, and the push for it started long before Bill Proenza became the NHC director. NHC actually wants/needs something better so that it can provide them with reliable and accurate information (intensity and structure) within all hurricanes. A few other users of QuikSCAT data include: The Department of Defense's Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Pearl Harbor, which has a much larger area to forecast for. They have no Hurricane Hunter data and much less surface and upper air data to work with, and thus use QuikSCAT winds quite a bit. This is a similar situation for NOAA's Central Pacific Hurricane Center located in Hawaii. QuikSCAT has also had significant positive impacts at the Ocean Prediction Center, which issues the high seas marine forecasts and warnings for the North Atlantic and North Pacific. This has led to the introduction of a warning category for hurricane force winds for the most dangerous extratropical cyclones. I know of at least a few private marine weather companies that routinely use QuikSCAT. The Australians, French and many others use QuikSCAT routinely for tropical storm forecast/analysis, and for marine weather in general.

The track degradation impact numbers that Bill Proenza has been stating publicly come from a limited data study for the 2003 season in the Atlantic with the GFS model only. I believe Bob Atlas did some earlier work studying the impact of QuikSCAT on Hurricane Cindy using an earlier version of the NCEP global model. Both of these studies did show promising positive impacts. They are of course limited studies, and a more in-depth study is warranted.

The GFS model hurricane track forecasts are just one piece of guidance that the NHC human forecasters use to generate the official track forecast, so the impact in a particular model guidance package does not directly translate to the same impact in the actual NHC officially issued track forecast. Additionally, QuikSCAT data are also used directly by forecasters at NHC and elsewhere, but this impact tends to be more difficult to quantify.

The aircraft are a very important hurricane operational and research tool, and no one involved in the QuikSCAT follow-on effort has ever said QuikSCAT (or its successor) should or could replace the role of the hurricane aircraft flights, just as no one has said that aircraft could replace the role of satellites. They are very complementary platforms, but they fulfill different roles.

It would be a shame if in the hubbub over Bill Proenza's push to get a replacement for the QuikSCAT satellite we lose sight of what all the scientists agree on--QuikSCAT is a vital tool in weather prediction that needs to be replaced with a better satellite. Both Dr. Atlas and Dr. Chang are working on research specifically designed to study just how much impact QuikSCAT has on landfalling hurricanes in the Atlantic, which no studies have yet quantified.

Read Margie' Kieper's View From the Surface Blog for more on the QuikSCAT/Bill Proenza matter.

Jeff Masters

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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386. CJ5
3:18 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Proenza mislead us, something I don't like.

Please quote some factual text where Proenza mislead anyone. I see where some claim he did and I see where some claim he didn't. Please provide quote from Bill Proenza that is untruthful.
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385. Jedkins
3:17 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Proenza is the only dude with sense in this madness at the NHC as far as I am concerned.

They don't like him because hes an independant thinker. But thats what they really need is an independant thinker.

Thats how the government works, if you don't believe me, research a whole lot about it and you'll come into the same conclusion.

They have their reasons why they don't like people that are independant thinkers in their jobs. Some are decent reasons. But there is a lot more good potential if they are independant thinks because they aren't just puppets.
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384. BahaHurican
11:04 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
I'm sitting on the fence with this Proenza thing now. What struck me the most about the staff comments (particularly Franklin's) is that the staff seems to view Proenza as a liar (that's the REAL meaning of misrepresentation in the political context, folks). Basically people are saying "Bill lies to other people about what we say to him", and that is a really strong comment to make about your boss. Obviously there are some strong feelings about the situation, probably based on events that we don't have a clue about.

On the other hand, I firmly believe that forecasters who seemed to have the potential to handle the post were offered the opportunity to apply and interview for it. I seem to recall us mooting some names about and later seeing that these persons had declined the post. In fact, I'm pretty certain this was one key reason why Proenza was brought in the first place. So when it is time to find someone to replace Proenza, we immediately run into some difficulties.

I'm also really interested in whether any of the senior forecasters who spoke today are capable of handling the director's post, or if they even have a replacement in mind. Maybe they figure they are such a "family" that they don't need someone over them to make decisions and be a public spokesperson. Someone today mentioned that the potential for hidden agendas being pushed in this whole brouhaha is very high, and I agree with this. To me, something stinks about the way these events are falling out.

I also disagree with those who say Proenza should step down voluntarily simply because his staff members called for it. First of all, only 1/2 of the staff has called for it - less than half, if I remember correctly - and as he said, the staff members did not hire him. Since the NOAA has precipitated this situation by sending in the team, let the team do its work (such as it is) and present their findings. Then, and only then, should Proenza consider stepping down. A resignation at this point would be a hasty decision, and frankly would leave the NHC in even a worse state than it is in right now. A big part of the problem here is that people have not been following procedures, and for complete closure I thing protocol should be followed.

I also have a lot of respect for Dr. Master's opinions, even if I don't always agree with what he has to say. I find his open opposition to Proeza's directorship a lot more disturbing than the comments of the NHC employees, at least partially because he is taking a more scientific approach and also because he is less directly involved in the situation. This makes me believe that especially long-term Proenza may not be the man for the job.

In the final analysis, I think I agree with others who say that Proenza should be allowed to finish out the year. This is mainly because I feel NOAA needs to take more time to carefully vet and select a replacement. A knee-jerk response at this moment may actually create an even more unfavourable situation in the long-term than the one forecasters are in now. And obviously they are continuing to do their jobs despite the allegedly "poisonous" atmosphere. They are pretty tough. They should be able to stick it out another six months.
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383. Caffinehog
3:03 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Proenza mislead us, something I don't like. All Proenza would have had to do is tell all the democrats about the number of different ways it studies climate, and congress would have been all over it. The study of hurricaines might have been enough to convince the republicans. But no, he mislead us in order to get what he wanted. That's not the kind of person I like in charge of things.
(FYI, I am a conservative that has a LOT of problems with Bush.)
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381. BahaHurican
11:02 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
The Indian Ocean has been busy since the beginning of 2007. They've had some recordbreaking storms and rains from storms.

Although things have switched to the northern part of the Ocean, it seems like the pattern is continuing (at least in terms of devastation caused).

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380. moonlightcowboy
2:46 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Navy has 96L at 10.9N-55.3W, so it's still a ways to the SA coast. What's left seems to be heading mostly due west and that slides it through between Trinidad and Tobago (a narrow 25 miles between) and possibly running into the Venezuelan coast. I see what's left is located at about 11.3n and 58w and will pass north of Tobago towards Grenada.

Along the way, still, less dust and more convection...
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378. phillyfan909
10:41 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
Seems like the Indian Ocean is having a year like the Atlantic had in 2005. Anything going on out there now?
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377. BahaHurican
10:18 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
Ike wrote:

Their TWC...they promote the heck out of the importance of the tropics. At least present a 3 to 4 minute portion each hour to what's going on. Surely they can ad-lib that long. They USE to do it back in the 80's and 90's.

This is SOOO not true! Especially in the 80's they would brush by the tropics. You would get a report like, "There's a category five hurricane somewhere out in the Atlantic, but it's not going to impact the United States, so we won't tell you anything else about it". This used to drive me crazy when I was at university in the US.
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376. NRAamy
7:33 PM PDT on July 06, 2007
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2:31 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
hello any body out there
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2:21 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
all quiet here too just like the tropics
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373. wunderwomen
10:12 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
lol idk if i won haha we will have to see in the morning
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2:12 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
bed its early only 10 pm but good night
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371. FLfishyweather
2:09 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Let me tell you I was litterally strapping myself to the computer desk and forcing myself to stay awake, but my rope apparantly has been worn off. I better go to bed.

Tell me if wunderwoman manages to win that race.
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370. wunderwomen
10:11 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
talk to you all tom
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369. wunderwomen
10:10 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
ok night all
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368. moonlightcowboy
2:09 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Nite, StormW, thanks for your help this evening. I think I'm right behind you. Let the board play, doesn't look like the tropics have much to say.
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365. bobw999
10:03 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
Alright time to hit the sack. No, let me rephrase that, time to go to bed. See you all tomorrow.
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364. FLfishyweather
2:02 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
I dont think a lot of people are focusing there attention on 96l. It had its time to shine already.
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363. moonlightcowboy
2:02 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Bob, all I'm saying is, is that Qscat is not a "new" issue. Proenza has had Qscat knowledge before being appt'd, or should have known with all of his weather expertise, meaning he's had ample time to voice his opinions, lobby for Qscat way before he became head of the NHC.
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1:57 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
96L on the rocks of south america as for the rest of the season all quiet maybe for sometime to come maybe atlantic hurricanes will all but disappear for awhile after next week we will have to have 2 storms per week for the rest of the season to make there forecasted numbers
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361. StormThug
9:00 PM CDT on July 06, 2007
dont count 96l out yet.
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360. bobw999
9:59 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
Hes been on this QuickScat issue ever since he became the director. Its nonsense that NOAA starts heating things up in the middle of hurricane season.
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359. FLfishyweather
1:59 AM GMT on July 07, 2007

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358. moonlightcowboy
1:55 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Has Proenza fired anyone? If he hasn't, he shouldn't be head of the NHC because he can't manage people. When dissention among the ranks began, he should've handled the situation, and reminded the staff of their mission. Plain, simple.

I respect his position, but with all of his awards, knowledge and weather stature and tenure, he's had plenty of time to lobby for Qscat before now. Especially, since he's "qualified" for the position.

I didn't feel this way at first when all this came up. In fact, fired off letters to the senate committee on Qscat.

You can't run the center, if you can't manage the people. Nope, Proenza should go! IMO
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356. FLfishyweather
1:54 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
I was really looking foward to something to track the past 5 weeks or so. I mean, when I see a storm form on the first day of hurricane season I get pretty high expectations.
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355. Drakoen
1:55 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
96L was a tease i will give it that. But it look like its finally dieing...
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354. bobw999
9:54 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
Like I said on your blob dburris1040, I agree. This is ridicules. This is what happens when you put .gov on the end of things. Maybe AccuWeather.com taking over wasn't such a bad idea!!!
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352. dburris1040
1:45 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Bill Proenza had the guts to speak out for a replacement for QuikSCAT, to speak out for more funding, to speak out against the multi-million dollar birthday party for NOAA, and to put his career on the line for something important, but he failed to consider the sensitive feelings of the NHC "family." I haven't heard any "scientific" evidence that Bill Proenza did anything but good. Maybe the NHC staff need to be awakened from their slumber. How come none of these scientists who want Bill Proenza's head had the guts to speak out for important funding issues. Thank goodness we have a hero like Bill Proenza looking out for our safety, willing to risk his career for what is right, and willing to ruffle a few feathers along the way.
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351. Drakoen
1:52 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Drakoen's 11:00 pm update "nothing in sight" back to you bob
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350. Bamatracker
1:51 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
shut down all ready?!!! boooooooooooo!!
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349. wunderwomen
9:50 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
sorry guys it was Friday night humor i just had to do it.
*flfishyweather is chasing me im running faster then him haha o noooooo i hit the wall and he well beep beep beep awww man it was just a nightmare whewww!*
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348. bobw999
9:51 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
from the NHC lol. I hope not here. I never Max with local 10 new. Is that the channel with Don Noe?

Sure is.
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347. bobw999
9:51 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
hows the 11 pm update coming?

Drakoen shut us down.
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346. Drakoen
1:49 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Posted By: Bamatracker at 1:48 AM GMT on July 07, 2007.

hows the 11 pm update coming?

from the NHC lol. I hope not here. I never seen Max with local 10 news. Is that the channel with Don Noe?
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345. wunderwomen
9:50 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
A husband and his wife were sound asleep when suddenly the phone rang.

The husband picked up the phone and said, "Hello? How the heck do I know? What do I look like, a weatherman?" He then slammed the phone down and settled into bed.

"Who was that?" asked his wife.

"I don't know. It was some guy who wanted to know if the coast was clear."
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344. Drakoen
1:47 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Posted By: FLfishyweather at 1:39 AM GMT on July 07, 2007.

weather channel- bringing weather to life...

get real

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343. wunderwomen
9:48 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
lol What is the Mexican weather report?

Chili today and hot tamale.
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342. Bamatracker
1:47 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
hows the 11 pm update coming?
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341. moonlightcowboy
1:34 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
The NHC/Proenza dilema has serious ramifications because it effects public safety.

A $4 million b'day is kind of an "in-your-face" deal to many who still don't have a home to celebrate a b'day on the coast. I'm sure, there are many who'd like to have a fraction of that money to help put their lives back together. The money would be better spent on forecasting, etc.

But, that kind of waste is unparalleled by the kind of waste that happened post Katrina and in our gov't every single day. It reminds me of the time our country was to celebrate its 500 b'day in 1992. There was soooo much corruption and graft, that the anticipated celebrations never got off the ground. So, typical of gov't.

Someone needs to keep their eye on the ball. If a Cat 5 or serious storm hits anywhere this year, can you imagine the blame that's gonna be thrown around? It'll be unbelievable.

This needs to get nipped in the bud ASAP! "Yesterday" would be good and the gov't entities need to get their focus back and do their jobs. I think everyone's had their "15 minutes." NOW, it's time to go back to work!!!
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1:42 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
max was a very smart man still is smart man a very down to earth type indiviual would like to see him come back but doubt it unless they offer him 350,000 thats still 3,650,000 for the party
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339. FLfishyweather
1:46 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
we all die?
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338. wunderwomen
9:47 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
answer: You have to be careful not to step in a poodle.
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337. BoyntonBeach
1:46 AM GMT on July 07, 2007
Thats what experience gets you ! More Money less work ! Its called SPECIALIZING !

So true. Now he works at Local 10 in Miami, shows up to work for 2 minutes to stay stuff that a regular met. could say. He probably gets paid 3 times as much.
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336. wunderwomen
9:46 PM EDT on July 06, 2007
What happens when it rains cats and dogs?
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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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